Anoka County law enforcement to clamp down on distracted drivers April 19

Extra enforcement to target distracted driving will be undertaken by Anoka County law enforcement agencies Thursday, April 19.

Taking part in the enforcement effort will be the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments of the cities of Anoka, Blaine, Centennial Lakes, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Lino Lakes, Ramsey, St. Francis and Spring Lake Park.

Driver distraction is the leading crash factor in Minnesota, accounting for around 20 percent of all crashes annually, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 injuries, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

In Minnesota it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts/e-mails and access the Internet on a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic, such as at a stop light or stuck in traffic, said Lt. Shelly Orlando, Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.

It is also illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to use a cell phone at any time, she said.

“Your focus behind the wheel is far more important than the text message you are sending or reading behind the wheel,” Orlando said.

“Drivers need to make a serious effort to recognize and limit dangerous and unnecessary distractions and passengers need to speak up to stop and prevent drivers from texting.”

Distractions cause drivers to react more slowly to traffic conditions or events, such as vehicle stopping or pulling out in traffic, according to Orlando.

A University of Utah study reports that using a cell phone while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having an alcohol concentration level of 0.08 percent, Orlando said.

And when texting, drivers take their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 seconds out of six seconds – equivalent to traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking up, she said.

To minimize distractions, Anoka County law enforcement agencies recommend:

• Cell phone – turn off cell phones or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial/answer or read or send a text. If a passenger is present, ask that person to handle calls/texts.

• Music and other controls – pre-program favorite radio stations and arrange music in an easy to access spot. Adjust mirrors and AC/heat before traveling.

• Navigation – designate a driver to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance and pull over to study a map or program the GPS.

• Eating and drinking – try to avoid food/beverage, especially messy foods, and have drinks secured.

• Children – teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle; do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.

• Passengers should speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior.

Distracted driving education is a component of Minnesota’s core traffic safety initiative – Toward Zero Deaths (TZD), according to Orlando.

A primary vision of TZD is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero fatal fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior, Orlando said.

TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes – education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response.