According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as of January 2015, 47 U.S. states and territories, including Minnesota, had laws against text messaging while driving, and yet distracted driving remains a serious issue in the United States. This study showed 62 percent of drivers keep their phones within reach while driving, 61 percent send, read, or reply to text messages, and 27 percent view or post to Facebook.
Behavior like that is contributing to these unfortunate statistics: in 2014, accidents involving distracted drivers killed 3,179 people, and another 431,000 people were injured. That’s more than eight deaths and 1,180 injuries every day as a result of distracted driving.
Although distractions while driving can also include listening to music, watching a video, grooming, eating and drinking, adjusting navigational systems, and even talking to other passengers, distracted driving laws tend to focus on cell phone usage. The Official US Government Website for Distracted Driving identifies three types of distraction:
- Visual: Taking your eyes off the road, as when speaking to someone in the passenger seat or turning around to check on your kids.
- Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel, as you might do when adjusting your air conditioner or navigational system or eating a sandwich.
- Cognitive: Taking your mind off the task of driving, as can happen when you’re involved in a heated argument, daydreaming about your next vacation, or going over your presentation for work.
Texting while driving is especially problematic because it involves all three types of distraction.
DISTRACTED DRIVING LAWS IN MINNESOTA
In Minnesota, Statute 169.13 covers reckless and careless driving. This includes driving in such a way that could cause harm to another person or property, which can be a poor yet intentional choice or an accidental result of distracted driving. Drivers who are busy unwrapping food, setting a GPS, or combing their hair often slow down, drift across the line, or fail to notice a traffic light or sign.
Statute 169.475 specifically addresses text messages:
“An electronic message includes, but is not limited to, e-mail, a text message, an instant message, a command or request to access a World Wide Web page, or other data that uses a commonly recognized electronic communications protocol.”
“No person may operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device to compose, read, or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.”
There are exceptions, such as in the event of an emergency or life-threatening situation, and it should be noted that making a regular cell phone call or using a hands-free device is permitted. However, under normal circumstances, breaking this law results in a fine of $50 (plus court fees) for the first offense, and $275 (plus court fees) for subsequent offenses.
Of course, that’s if no one is hurt.
FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR DISTRACTED DRIVING
If you are texting while driving and happen to injure or kill someone, you can face felony charges of criminal vehicular operation or homicide. If the injuries sustained by the victim are minor, you might receive the lesser charge of a gross misdemeanor. Either way, the state will have to prove your negligence, and if you were texting while driving, negligence isn’t hard to prove.
If you’re involved in a traffic accident resulting in bodily injury or death, it’s imperative that you speak with an experienced St. Paul traffic crimes attorney. Even if you’re guilty of the charges, you have a right to proper representation to ensure your constitutional rights are protected.
After careful examination of the details of your case, we might find it possible to lessen the charges or the penalties. Handling your case alone will rarely result in the best outcome for you, and your future depends upon the judgment. Contact Rogosheske, Rogosheske & Atkins for a free consultation, or call our St. Paul office at 651-413-9004 to discuss your case with one of our attorneys.