Bill to prohibit handheld cellphone use while driving receives Senate hearing

ST. PAUL, MINN – A bill chief authored by Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan) that would prohibit the use of cellphones while driving received a Senate hearing Thursday evening. Currently, 14 other states and the District of Columbia prohibit hand-held cellphone use while driving. The bill would still allow the use of cellphones with built-in hands-free technology or a variety of hands-free adaptors presently available such as headphones and ear pieces. Sen. Carlson says he authored this bill to promote safer driving habits and reduce avoidable injuries and deaths.

According to the National Safety Council, the use of cellphones caused more than one in four of the nation’s crashes in 2013. A report by the State Farm insurance company in 2010 blamed cell phones while driving for over 600,000 crashes, 300,000 personal injuries, 12,000 major injuries, 2700 deaths, and $43 billion in damages in the nation each year. By now, we’ve all experienced distracted driving and witnessed individuals doing it.  We all need to take more responsibility for our safety and the safety of others when we’re behind the wheel. It’s time to hang up and drive,” said Sen. Carlson.

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety committee heard testimony from stakeholders including the Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota Safety Council, as well as several families of victims of crashes caused by distracted driving. The committee’s chair, Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) laid the bill over for possible inclusion in a future Transportation omnibus bill.

Sen. Carlson said he appreciated the time given to the bill, especially to the families, but was disappointed the bill wasn’t sent to the Senate floor for a full vote. “This bill has bipartisan support and I think it would not only pass the Senate, but that it’s time for this issue to pass on its merits.” The bill’s House companion passed the House Transportation committee unanimously but has stalled in the Public Safety committee, where chair Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) has declined to hear the bill.

Minnesota is already one of 46 states to ban texting while driving. Devices that are used exclusively for navigational purposes will be exempt from the hands free prohibition as are first responders and someone contacting emergency assistance.

Senator Jim Carlson
Jim Carlson represents District 51, which includes Eagan and areas of Burnsville.

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