Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, is among the many legislators supporting a bill that would ban the use of hand-held phones while driving.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, distracted driving tops the list of growing dangers on the road. The annual Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that 88 percent of drivers believe distracted driving is on the rise, topping other risky behaviors like aggressive driving, drunk driving and drivers using drugs.

To help curb behaviors associated with distracted driving, the Minnesota House recently voted 106-21 for a bill that would outlaw drivers from using hand held phones behind the wheel.

Currently, Minnesota law only bans drivers from emailing, texting and web browsing behind the wheel.

Authored by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL- Minneapolis, the new bill is said to be a major step in the right direction for a safer Minnesota.

The bill is also close to Kunesh-Podein’s heart as she lost her father to a distracted driver over 37 years ago.  “It was a beautiful and sunny Memorial day and he went out for a bicycle ride and a woman veered off the road and hit my dad while he was bicycling,” she said. “He was killed instantly so these kinds of things are always mindful to me. It is easy to take your mind off of your driving for whatever reason. There are a lot of deaths that could prevented.”

According to the Department of Public Safety, at least 27 of Minnesota’s 380 traffic deaths in 2018 were related to distracted driving, said Kunesh-Podein.  

“I have heard it over and over that cell phone use is one of the fasted growing reason for traffic violations, injury and death while driving.”

Although the bill would ban the use of phones, some exemptions have been made including the manual use of a GPS.

For drivers without built-in Bluetooth systems, Kunesh-Podein said hands free mounts and adapters can be used.

“There are devices that you can buy that can plug into a cigarette lighter,” she said. “You don’t have to have a vehicle with Bluetooth.”

During the 2018 legislative session, Hornstein presented the bill but because it didn’t have enough GOP support, it was not given a vote on the House floor.

“We used to not have cell phones and people were not driving on the phone so my hope is that we can get used to that again or at least minimize it,” said Kunesh-Podein. “I think that this is a very important piece of legislation. I think as legislatures it is important that we work on bills that keep people safe and healthy. Even one death is one death too many.”  

The bill is now expected to go through the Senate and any differences in the legislation on the Senate and House sides will be worked out through conference committee.  

Although the bill does not include increased penalties, lawmakers are considering separate legislation regarding non-compliance.

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