Bill strengthens penalty for texting while driving

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A) has proposed legislation that would increase fines for texting while driving.

Tickets for drivers caught texting while driving would increase from $135 to $185.

Minnesota was the third state to pass a ban on texting while driving when the law was passed in 2008.

“The reason we are here now with this update of our original legislation is that were continuing to see a rapid increase in people engaging in one of the most dangerous things one can do behind the wheel — that’s texting while driving,” Hornstein said during a hearing on the bill at the bill before the House Transportation and Policy Committee on March 12.

Texting while driving causes a driver to be 23 times more likely to crash, Hornstein said.

Donna Berger, director of the state’s Office of Traffic Safety, said the bill is intended to “strengthen the deterrent effect” on the ban, which has proven a difficult law for police to enforce since motorists have to be seen texting.

While arrests for drunken driving have dropped for several years, distracted driving is the one driving offense that continues to climb each year, she said. The state has issued 6,412 citations for texting while driving since the law was enacted.

She said the average time people take their eyes off the road while texting is 5 seconds — the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

Peggy Riggs, whose 20-year-old son David was killed by a distracted driver, also testified at the hearing. Her son had taken his scooter out on a quiet summer night near the home in Oakdale and was struck by a driver who had texting. He was put on life support for four days so his brother could return home from Afghanistan to say goodbye.

“Our son lost everything because someone decided to send a text message,” she said. “No family should have to suffer the loss we have.”