Bill Could Make Penalty For Accidents Caused By Texting While Driving Equal to DUI

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A new bill could make accidents caused by texting while driving equivalent to the current penalties for DUIs.

State Sen. David Osmek (R-Mound) will be introducing a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would make the penalty for operating a motor vehicle while using an electronic device and causing an accident equal to current penalties for accidents caused by DUIs.

“Current state law already penalizes individuals who drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol and cause a serious accident,” Osmek said. “Yet, as recent statistics show, one in five accidents in Minnesota were due to distracted driving. It’s time we treat this issue as seriously as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

According to the Office of Traffic Safety, distracted or inattentive driving was a contributing factor in one in five crashes over the last five years. Each year, distracted driving has resulted in an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries — and those numbers are likely underreported due to difficulties in determining distraction as a crash factor.

To put it in perspective, distracted driving killed 74 individuals on Minnesota roads in 2015, while drunk driving took the lives of 95 individuals.

Under state law, it is illegal for drivers to read or send text messages and emails while driving, including while sitting in traffic or stopped at a traffic light. However, Osmek believes drivers should be held accountable for risking their life and the lives of others by using their cell phone while driving.

“Distracted driving is a serious problem that is taking lives in our state, especially our youth,” Osmek said. “The bottom line is if you cause someone great bodily harm or death because of your actions, the penalty should fit the level of damage you have caused to other lives.”

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