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Press Release

Friday, October 26, 2018

Attorney General Lori Swanson Calls for Distracted Driving Reforms

Attorney General Lori Swanson today issued a report calling on state policymakers to enact legislation to require hands-free only cell phone use while driving, to increase the penalties for texting while driving, and to require the suspension of the driver’s licenses of repeat offenders.

“We need to change the culture around distracted driving and make it not be okay for people to do this. Drunken driving, which was once largely condoned, is now stigmatized. We should apply some of the successful drunken driving reform measures to distracted driving, which has become an epidemic on the roads,” said Swanson.

Calling distracted driving an “epidemic,” Swanson was joined by police, business and labor groups, and families who lost loved ones to distracted driving. She said her findings were based on an assessment of how other states have handled the issue. Swanson’s office also examined texting while driving charges in Minnesota and noted that the problem is not limited to the youngest drivers. In 2017, drivers age 16-29 represented 22% of drivers but 47% of texting while driving charges; drivers age 30-49 represented 33% of drivers but 42% of texting while driving charges.

Swanson’s office—which has handled over 15,000 driver’s license revocation cases after impaired driving arrests in the last three years—studied the distracted driving reforms utilized in other states. Her report makes the following recommendations (pages 24-28):

The Report, entitled Distracted Driving: A Deadly Epidemic on our Roads, notes that distracted driving results in over 3,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries annually in the United States. In Minnesota, there are more than 50 deaths each year in proven cases of distracted driving, although the actual number of deaths and injuries is likely much higher. From 2013 to 2017, 265 people were killed in Minnesota and 1,080 suffered serious injuries in distracted driving crashes. One in five crashes resulting in death or serious injury during that period was caused by distracted driving.

One government study estimates that at any given moment during daylight hours, approximately 481,000 drivers are handling a cell phone while driving. The National Safety Council estimates that 1.5 million vehicle accidents occur each year in the United States as a result of texting and other forms of distracted driving. A driver sending a text is 23 times more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident or near miss.