ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The effort to curb distracted driving is moving along on several fronts at the State Capitol, including new legislation to impose harsher penalties for motorists who kill or injure someone while distracted by a phone.
"Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to go out, get in my car, and kill somebody,' but we need to bring that awareness," Rep. Keith Franke of St. Paul Park told reporters, saying it's not his intention to demonize those who have grown attached to their devices.
And yet, at the same time, the current offenses and penalties don't fit the devastating consequences of accidents caused by cell phone distractions.
"My bill is increasing those penalties, inserting this into the vehicular homicide statute, so our judges and prosecutors can work better to charge these properly."
Hands-free cell phone bill
In the meantime, a bill requiring that cell phones be operated in hands-free mode while the car is moving cleared its first big hurdle Tuesday, when it passed the House Public Safety Committee on a voice vote.
The lead authors of the hands-free bill, Rep. Mark Uglem of Chaska and Rep. Frank Hornstein of Minneapolis, say pressure is growing from the families of victims and others who share the roads with distracted drivers.
The hands-free cell phone bill is a top legislative priority of BikeMN, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, which held a summit near the Capitol on Thursday.
"I see it quite frequently as a bike commuter, people swerving into the shoulder where I’m riding, or into the bike lane," Dan Bassett of St. Paul, a member of the BikeMN, told KARE.
"It's especially terrifying now that I'm trying to teach my daughter how to use the bike lanes in this city."
Bassett brought his eight-year-old daughter Teagan to the Bike Summit. She said her father is teacher her to be aware that motorists may not see her.
"Some people stopped for us today while we were biking, and that was really nice, like they were paying attention," Teagan explained. "Some other times people were just looking at their phones, so they finally looked up and saw we were crossing so they couldn't go."
Dan Bassett said it's a hard habit for drivers to break, especially because they manage to get away with it so often.
"That’s the hard part for us to get over, because it seems innocent. But the effects are catastrophic."