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Ask a Trooper: Is distracted driving actually getting worse?

Sgt. Jesse Grabow
Minnesota State Patrol

Question: What is being done about distracted driving? It seems like it is getting worse. 

Answer: Here is some information that was shared on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s blog. “When we think of distracted driving, most of us think of someone holding a phone up to their ear or scrolling through their social media feed. But distracted driving takes a lot of different forms. When you fiddle with your car stereo, you’re taking your eyes and attention off the road. Same with cleaning up a spill from that barbecue sandwich you’re trying to eat. Setting your navigation while driving also distracts from the road, and even passengers can distract you.

And if you think no one ever does that sort of thing anymore, the statistics from the most recent distracted driving extra enforcement campaign tell a different story. From June 1 through 14, law enforcement officers all over Minnesota were putting in extra hours, looking for distracted drivers. During that time, 1,034 drivers were cited for violating the hands-free cell phone law alone. They could be facing fines of $100 or more (including court fees) for a first offense and $300 or more (also including court fees) for each subsequent offense.

You’ll recall that the hands-free cell phone law has been in effect since Aug. 1, 2019. In the nine months after it took effect, Minnesota law enforcement officers cited 16,405 drivers for violating it. The fewer distracted drivers on Minnesota roads, the better. Distracted driving was a lead factor in crashes in 2019, contributing to 32 deaths and over 10 times as many injuries.

The tough truth is that no one can multi-task behind the wheel. If you’re texting while driving at 55 mph, for example, you’ll travel an entire football field before looking up – and any sports fan can tell you that a lot can happen in 100 yards. Texting while driving combines all three types of distractions: visual, physical and cognitive. A visual distraction might be a passenger or a particularly interesting billboard. A physical distraction happens when you take your hands off the wheel to, say, pick up a napkin from the floor. And a cognitive distraction is when you’re lost in thought or engaging in a particularly deep discussion. The point is that when you’re driving a vehicle, you’re there to do one thing and one thing only: Drive smart. 

And how does one drive smart? We’ll start with the obvious: Put the phone down, turn it off, put it out of reach, or use a hands-free device. Pre-program your radio stations, and adjust your mirrors and vents before you leave. Map out your destination and route in advance. Avoid messy foods (sorry, barbecue lovers) and secure your drink. Model proper driving behavior for your kids, and ask passengers’ help with anything that might take your attention away from the road (and offer the same kind of help when you’re a passenger, too).

With just a few adjustments, you can stay safe on the road. And more importantly, you can make sure everyone else on the road with you is safe, too.

A portion of state statutes were used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205.  (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at, jesse.grabow@state.mn.us).