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Legal Learning: Smartphones can be dumb

James Manahan

Smartphones can do many things, but they can't make their owners smart.

Minnesota's "no-texting" law makes it illegal for drivers to read, send texts and emails, or access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. That includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign.

The fine for a first offense is $50 plus court costs ($85). For a second or subsequent offense, it's $275 plus court costs. If you injure or kill someone because of texting and driving, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

For two weeks in April this year, law enforcement agencies put on an extra enforcement campaign in Minnesota. They issued 1,576 tickets for texting and driving during those two weeks. Here are some of the dumb things people were doing with their smartphones:

• A 65-year-old man in Kasson was shopping on Amazon — in a snowstorm — while behind the wheel.

• A 23-year-old woman on Highway 2 in Mentor was reading an article on Facebook.

• A 62-year-old man near Fisher was checking car prices online.

• A 42-year-old man in Duluth was surfing for "@BrunoMars music" while driving.

• A 24-year-old man in Duluth was texting with both hands and driving with his knees.

• A 20-year-old man in Duluth was clocking in for work via his cell phone even though he wasn't at work yet.

• A 20-year-old woman in Duluth was swerving and typing into her phone, looking up directions for a job interview.

• A 73-year-old woman near Mentor crossed the center line while reading emails and texting her daughter.

• A 20-year-old man in Duluth was looking at Snapchat and digging under his seat for sunglasses.

• An 18-year-old woman in Duluth received her second citation — $275 plus costs — for texting.

• A 42-year-old man in St. Paul was playing poker on his phone while driving.

• A 31-year-old woman was booking airline tickets while driving on Highway 13.

• A 52-year-old man was playing Pokémon Go while driving.

• A 24-year-old man was using an iPad to reset his password, and using his knees to drive.

• A 37-year-old woman in Denmark Township was putting on makeup.

• A 24-year-old man in Worthington was checking his bank statement.

• A 30-year-old woman got two tickets the same week for texting and driving. She admitted that she is addicted to her phone.

In greater Minnesota (outstate), the most citations were issued by the State Patrol in Virginia (84) and Duluth (74) — that's in just one two-week period. During 2017, a total of 7,357 tickets for distracted driving were issued, compared with 1,707 six years ago.

Distracted driving contributes to one out of every five crashes in Minnesota, and contributes to an average of 59 deaths and 223 injuries each year.

So put away your smartphone when you get behind the wheel. Be smart!

James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate. He handles family law, wills and probate in and around Lake County, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and are not to be attributed to his employer. He can be reached at jimmanahan@gmail.com.

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