Ban cellphone use behind the wheel

There is a bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives to ban drivers from talking on a phone, except for those who have hands-free phones.

It should be passed to protect our safety as we drive our cars. Last session legislators increased the fine for a second case of texting while driving, which is against the law. Banning talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving should be their next step – a step that 14 states have taken, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, distracted driving annually causes about 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries, and 1 in 4 traffic crashes are caused by distracted driving.

The National Safety Council is working to ban driving while on the phone. It says that cellphone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.

Minnesotans for Safe Driving notes how talking on the phone and driving causes accidents. It says most studies show that drivers on cellphones are twice as likely to miss traffic signals. Their reaction time is slower to the signals they do detect and their risk of causing a crash increases by 400 percent.

Some legislators are reluctant to pass this bill, according to observers, saying it’s too soon and there’s not enough public support for it. Judging from recent comments at the state Capitol, I think support to pass the legislation could be growing.

There’s work to be done to change attitudes about traffic safety. The National Safety Council said in a February report that while 83 percent of drivers surveyed said they are concerned about safety, 64 percent say they are comfortable speeding. An amazing 47 percent said they are comfortable texting either manually or through voice controls.

Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, and Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, are co-authors of the bill to ban using a phone while driving unless it’s a hands-free phone. The fine for the first offense would be $50 and $225 for the second. Hornstein was unsuccessful in passing a bill in 2011 that would have stopped drivers from using their phones. Now he says a similar bill has bipartisan support.
Contact your legislators and tell them to pass this ban-the-phone-while-driving bill to stop drivers who would rather talk on their phones than look out for others’ safety. — Don Heinzman (Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers, a division of APG.)