Late last year, Engine no. 81 from the Edina Fire Department was on its way to a fire call when a driver pulled directly in front of the truck causing a collision. It turns out that the woman driving the car was so distracted by her cell phone that she did not see the truck, its flashing light, or even hear the siren. Although no one was killed in this accident, four were injured and the fire truck is now out of service for up to two years until it can be replaced.
Distracted Driving Stats in Minnesota
Although this may seem like a rare occurrence, a 2015 study of about 12,000 drivers showed that almost 1/3rd (29.13%) of those observed were distracted. Moreover, inattentive or distracted driving accounts for 1 out of 4 crashes in Minnesota and data from 2015 shows distracted driving accounted for 74 deaths that year, a 21% increase from the previous year. In addition to those fatalities, inattentive driving led to 7,666 injuries in Minnesota. Even more startling is the suggestion that these findings reflect numbers that are much lower than the true statistics, as distracted driving tends to be underreported.
Distracted Driving Laws
The current distracted driving laws in Minnesota were put into effect in 2008 and as the law currently stands, there is no ban on adult drivers talking on a cellphone, whether it is hand-held or hands-free. In early 2017, a bill was introduced to ban this behavior, but ultimately it was not passed. It’s important to note that a study by the University of Utah found that the risk of getting into a motor vehicle accident while talking on a cellphone is equal to the risk of driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content (the legal limit). The study also found that there was no significant reduction in risk when the driver was talking on a hands-free cell phone, rather than a hand-held phone.
The law does ban school bus drivers from talking on a cellphone, both hands-free and hand-held. The same law exists for novice drivers that are younger than 18 years old or drivers with their learner’s permits or provisional licenses. The state also bans text messaging behind the wheel among all age groups, stating that it’s illegal to compose, send, or read text while behind the wheel. The law applies even when the vehicle is not currently moving but is still a part of traffic. The only caveat to the law is that a driver is allowed to use devices that are permanently attached to the wheel.
Since talking on a cell phone while driving is not illegal throughout the state and with the increased interest of staying connected at all times, it can be tempting to push these rules to the limit. The Minneapolis car accident lawyers at Knutson + Casey have helped us with the following list of measures you can take to make sure you are contributing to safer conditions on the road, while also not losing connectivity:
• If a passenger is with you, ask them to handle all calls/texts while you are behind the wheel.
• Map out directions before driving. Pull over if you need to examine the directions. If a passenger is present, put them on navigation duty.
• Pre-set radio stations before the drive as to avoid scrolling through channels.
• If you are a passenger, make sure to vocalize when your driver seems distracted. If you are a driver, encourage your passengers to do the same regarding your driving.
• When placing an outbound call, ask if the person on the other line is driving. If so, tell them to call you back when they are safely at their destination.