It takes about five seconds to read a text message. According to USAttorneys.com, in five seconds, a car can travel the distance of a football field. The risks of texting and driving are well-documented. Just reaching for your cell phone or dialing a number on it puts you three times at risk of getting into an accident. Yet, despite the clear risk to drivers, a recent investigative report found serious gaps in Minnesota’s enforcement of distracted drivers.
Fox 9 news reports that despite stricter laws regarding cell phone use for commercial vehicles, commercial drivers often avoid the very penalties designed to punish them for these serious crimes. Between September 2014 and September 2015, of the 200 tickets commercial drivers received, 49 percent were dismissed or the charges were reduced. The investigative report found that many of the instances where charges were dropped involved cases where evidence found against the driver was strong. Drivers fight their tickets and convictions heavily in court because often, a conviction leads to a lost job. Companies and operators also have an incentive to fight their cases in court because penalties against drivers can lead to fines and reduce the company’s safety rating.
Where the evidence was strong and no conviction was found, Fox 9 found that some prosecutors were lenient on drivers. The practical result of this failure means that more unsafe commercial drivers are on the road, putting more people at risk of personal injury accidents.
Why do so many drivers use cell phones despite knowing the risks? The reasons are complex. Some drivers claim to be unaware of the law. Others claim that they used their phone when stopped at a light, so the danger was reduced. Yet others continued to break the law because law enforcement seldom held them accountable. One commercial driver had three tickets, other traffic convictions, and a felony assault on his record, yet his distracted driving tickets were thrown out.
If law enforcement and prosecutors won’t enforce the new law, then drivers, particularly commercial drivers, won’t have the motivation to follow it. The result are tragic accidents. Every year, countless Minnesota residents either suffer an injury or death due to distracted driving or know someone who has suffered due to another person’s negligence behind the wheel. Until law enforcement consistently begins to crack down on distracted driving, these accidents are likely to continue to happen.
As the law currently stands, commercial drivers are not allowed to check texts or to browse the web while driving. Commercial drivers are also not permitted to use phones while on-duty unless the device is hands-free.
Drivers in Minnesota have a responsibility to follow the law. Failure to do so can have tragic consequences. If you’ve been hurt by a distracted driver or have been involved in a car accident where another driver was at fault, you may be entitled to receive money for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The Law Office of Martin T. Montilino is a personal injury law firm committed to helping families seek justice.