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Extra distracted driving enforcement period being held June 1-14

Mower County law enforcement will join more than 300 agencies across the state to crack down on distracted driving. The campaign that begins June 1 and runs through June 14 is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS).

Last year, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Hands-Free Cell Phone Law, making it illegal to hold and use a cell phone while driving. While cell phones serve as a means of distraction, there are also other distractions while driving, such as eating, checking your makeup, turning around to talk to a child or turning the radio channel. While not illegal, these actions can lead to a crash.

“Getting ready to leave a few minutes earlier can help you avoid many distractions that take place in the car,” said Austin Police Chief David McKichan. “Giving yourself more time helps you get ready at home, not in the car. It allows you to eat and not risk dropping food on your lap, which could take your eyes off the road. It allows you to set your radio, streaming music or GPS before you start driving. All these activities behind the wheel are behaviors that could lead to a crash. You don’t want to be that person who takes another life or your own. Drive smart by always paying attention behind the wheel.”

According to the DPS-OTS, more than 50,000 crashes between 2015-2019 in Minnesota were distracted driving-related. In 2019, distracted driving contributed to 3,279 injuries and 32 deaths in Minnesota. From 2015-2019, distracted driving contributed to an average of 40 deaths and 195 life-changing injuries per year.

The Hands-Free Cell Phone Law took effect on Aug. 1, 2019. During the first seven months of the hands-free law, 13,830 drivers were cited for failing to comply with the law, according to the DPS-OTS.

The law allows a driver to use their cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. Those found violating the law will be fined $100 or more, including court fees, for the first offense and $300 or more for any subsequent offenses. Those who injure or kill someone while violating the hands-free law can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.