Senate driving state towards hands-free legislation

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard two bills this week that would increase penalties for using a cell phone while driving.

The first bill would increase penalties for texting while driving, add penalties for second and third offenses, and require the Department of Public Safety commissioner to include distracted driving education in drivers’ education programs and in the Minnesota driver’s manual. The bill also adds operating a cell phone in a negligent manner without a hands-free setting to the definition of criminal vehicular homicide.

The second bill increases penalties for any non-hands-free cell phone use while driving.

Hands-free legislation has been a topic of discussion at the Capitol for the last several years. Proponents of the bill have testified on the behalf of loved ones they’ve lost to distracted drivers. Advocates for the bill point out that one in five crashes on Minnesota roads over the last five years has been a result of distracted driving. People who look at their phone for four seconds while driving 55 MPH travel about the length of one football field without being aware of their surroundings. Distracted driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

Both bills were recommended to pass and will be heard next in the Finance Committee. (S.F. 75, S.F. 91)