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