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Reality Check: Will A Hands-Free Bill Curb Distracted Driving Deaths?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota House on Monday is expected to vote on a bill that could change driving habits for millions of Minnesotans – a ban on hand-held cellphones while driving.

But, will it cut distracted driving deaths in Minnesota?

Consider this example from the U.S. Department of Transportation:

In the five seconds it takes for a driver to look down at a text message while going 55 miles per hour, the car will have traveled the length of a football field. The driver might as well be blindfolded.

It's the reason Minnesota state lawmakers are tapping the brakes on hand-held cellphones while driving.

At a State Capitol hearing, Minnesota families blamed distracted driving and texting for the deaths of their loved ones.

"My brother's life is worth more than someone's choice to get distracted for 30 seconds," a tearful Danielle Wishard-Tudor, of Henderson, told lawmakers. "His life was worth more than that. And the punishment was a misdemeanor? His punishment was his life. His entire life."

Minnesota is one of 47 states to ban texting while driving.

Now, a new law could ban Minnesota drivers from using any hand-held cellphones while in traffic. The penalty is a $225 fine.

A separate bill would make certain cellphone traffic crimes resulting in serious injury or death a felony.

The new law, if passed, would allow voice-activated cellphones and hands-free devices.

Minnesota's Office of Traffic Safety reports distracted driving is a factor in 20 percent of crashes in the state. Even worse, it causes an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries every year.

The question: do hands-free cellphones lower those numbers?

"Hands-free" cellphones is the law in 16 states and the District of Columbia. New research shows 12 of those states had a decrease in fatalities almost immediately.

Here are the numbers:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found all highways deaths were down 16 percent in two years after passing a ban on hand-held cellphones while driving.

That's Reality Check.

Here are some of the sources we used for this Reality Check:

MN House: "Hands-Free" Bill
Distracted Driving Stats
Driver Cellphone and Texting Bans
Driver Cellphone and Texting Bans in the United States
Texting: Length of a Football Field
Centers For Disease Control
State Statistics/MN
Increasing Crash Risk: Insurance Journal

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