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Minnesota Legislature

‘Put the phone down and drive’ bill gets second House committee approval

Greg Tikalsky tells the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee how his father, Joe, was killed by a distracted driver. A bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Uglem, right, would require hands-free cell phone use. Photo by Paul Battaglia.

Having people make a better choice behind the wheel is the goal of a bill supporters say is long overdue.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Uglem (R-Champlin), HF1180 would ban handheld cellphone use when operating a motor vehicle.

Phones could be used in a voice-activated or hands-free mode and in some emergency situations. Devices that function solely for GPS or navigation purposes could also still be used.

Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol, put it succinctly: “This says just put the phone down and drive.”

Approved Tuesday by the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, the bill was sent to the House Ways and Means Committee. It was approved last year by the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee.

A companion, SF837, sponsored by Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

In a March 30, 2017, letter to Carlson, Gov. Mark Dayton offered his “strong support” for the bill.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) said distraction is the fastest-growing driving problem.

“We got to get a handle on it,” he said. “This bill will really help law enforcement … and will be a huge help to reduce deaths and injuries we have on the road due to distractions.”

It’s already illegal to text while driving with a violator subject to a $50 fine; subsequent penalties are $225. Those would be the same for using a handheld cell phone behind the wheel.

“Life is a right, driving is a privilege,” said Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker). “All we are doing with this bill is making a privilege safer to protect a right.”

Greg Tikalsky shared the story of how is father, Joe, was killed by a distracted driver while crossing a country road to his mailbox to grab the morning paper.

“My last memory of my dad can’t be of his body lying in a ditch alongside a field he farmed his entire life,” he said.

Danielle Wishard Tudor gets emotional listening to testimony on a bill to require hands-free cell phone use while driving. She is holding a photo of her brother, Jean-Claude Wishard, who was killed in October by a distracted driver. Photo by Paul Battaglia

As he spoke, many people in the room held pictures of a loved one killed by a distracted driver. 

“While it’s too late to save my dad and those whose portraits are among us, it’s not too late to save ourselves,” Tikalsky said. “ … Before we send out one more death and funeral notice, let’s send out a birth announcement of a new law that’s going to save lives.”

Even if the proposed change ultimately becomes law, Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (DFL-Mankato) doesn’t want people to think using any cellular device while driving is not dangerous.

“A chicken wing is still a distraction, a cup of coffee is still a distraction,” Considine said. “I don’t want to send a signal that because you’re doing it hands-free that you are safe. You’re not. It’s still a distraction. … When you’re driving, when you’re behind the wheel, you need to be driving and paying attention to what’s going on and not doing anything else.”

 


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