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Tougher penalties for texting while driving get transportation panel’s OK

Tom Goeltz testifies as his wife Wendy holds a photo of their daughter, Megan in the House transportation division. They spoke in support of HF104, a bill that would increase penalties for electronic messaging while driving. Photo by Paul Battaglia

State lawmakers have already passed a proposed ban on using mobile devices behind the wheel without a hands-free device this session. Now, another bill advancing in the House could increase penalties on those who text and drive.

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) proposes to increase fines for using a wireless communication device to text message while operating a motor vehicle. His bill, HF104, would also add negligent driving while using a cellphone — if not using a hands-free setting — to criminal vehicular homicide and operations statutes.

“This [legislation] will make roads safer,” Dettmer said.

House panel approves bill increase penalties for texting while driving 3/26/19

Approved, as amended, Tuesday by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division, the bill was re-referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Dave Osmek (R-Mound) sponsors a companion, SF75, which awaits action on the Senate Floor.

Tom Goeltz, whose pregnant daughter, Megan, was hit and killed by a distracted driver, told lawmakers that the state’s current penalties are “laughable.” Dettmer’s bill would establish that the violation is a misdemeanor and impose the following, higher fines:

  • $150 for a first offense;
  • $300 for a second offense; and,
  • $500 for a third or subsequent offense.

House lawmakers earlier this month passed HF50, which would bar drivers from holding a cellphone or other wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle by requiring the use of hands-free devices. That bill, however, didn’t address increasing penalties for texting behind the wheel on Minnesota roadways.

The state’s current penalties aren’t enough of a deterrent, Goeltz said. The distracted driver who struck and killed his daughter pleaded guilty to just one count of reckless driving.

“I should be holding a two-and-a-half-year-old grandson rather than talking to you,” Goeltz said.

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