Every day in the U.S., 11 teenagers die while texting and driving. In Minnesota, distracted driving accounts for one out of every four motor vehicle deaths, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Despite that - and even with loved ones flocking to the state Capitol to lobby in memory of those who've perished on our roads and highways - Minnesota lawmakers for five straight years now have failed to outlaw using handheld cell phones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel.
Exasperating. This legislative session, though, another bill has been introduced and, encouragingly, has "even more momentum" than last year's "widespread support," as the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported this week. The bill would ban holding and using a cellphone or any electronic device while driving in anything but a "hands-free" or a "one-touch" mode. Texting and driving already is illegal in Minnesota.
Further curbing cell use while driving deserves support. Every year in the U.S., approximately 421,000 people are hurt in crashes involving distracted drivers, 330,000 of them the result of texting and driving, according to AAA and others. One in five teen drivers in fatal accidents was on a cell phone.
Clearly, this is a "critical public safety issue" and perhaps even an "epidemic," as was claimed at a rally at the Capitol in St. Paul last session.
Smartphone voice commands and tapping buttons or screens inside of cars still would be allowed, the Pioneer Press reported. So would the proposed legislation be strong enough? Talking on a cell phone, even in a hands-free way, is mentally distracting. And what motorist wants any distraction while making more than 200 decisions per mile, as Holly Kostrzewski, the Northeastern Minnesota director of Toward Zero Deaths, said during a News Tribune Pressroom Podcast in the summer of 2017.
She offered a better solution: "The best thing is to stow your phone in the back seat so you can't touch it. I don't think people can handle not touching their phones (if they're within reach). So you just need to keep it away from yourself."
It's sound advice, no matter what the Minnesota Legislature finally does - especially with 94 percent of teens acknowledging the danger of texting and driving and 35 percent admitting to doing it anyway, according to Toward Zero Deaths, a program to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.
A total of 16 states already have made it illegal to use cell phones while driving. Minnesota lawmakers this session have yet another opportunity to make ours No. 17. They can put politics and party priorities aside and do so before there are any more needless deaths on our roads and highways.