Attention all drivers: It’s time to ditch the distractions

Sergeant Todd Schuster
Cambridge Police Department

On Aug. 31, 2000, Minnesota State Trooper Ted Foss was struck and killed while conducting a traffic stop. Shortly afterwards, the Minnesota legislature adopted the “Ted Foss – Move Over Law.” The law is designed to give emergency vehicles room to work on the portion of roadway they are occupying by requiring passing motorists to leave a lane vacant between them and those parked emergency vehicles. The law also requires that drivers reduce their speed as they pass the location of the emergency vehicle(s) and road repair equipment. This requirement to move over applies to driver’s approaching police vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, tow vehicles, along with construction and maintenance vehicles.

On Jan. 29, 2013, even with all of the attention about an incident three days prior involving two troopers with the Minnesota State Patrol having their squad cars hit, a Cambridge PD officer’s life was put into jeopardy while he was conducting a traffic stop on Main St. S.

As the officer was explaining the citation to the motorist, his squad car was suddenly struck from behind. Fortunately, neither the officer, the driver that was receiving the citation, or her child passenger were injured. Unfortunately, a passenger in the vehicle that struck the squad car suffered a broken arm.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates that distracted driving is a factor in 1 in 4 crashes (and admits that it is probably higher, but is most likely under reported by law enforcement because of the difficulty in determining if the driver was distracted or not). MN DPS estimates that distracted driving is a factor in an average of 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries each year.

Distracted or Inattentive Driving is defined as when a driver engages in any activity that might distract them from the primary task of driving and increases their risk of crashing.

Here are some tips to avoid distracted driving:

• Cell Phones – turn off cell phones or ask a passenger to handle the calls/texts.  It is illegal for drivers to read, compose, or send text messages/emails or access the internet using a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or in a part of traffic – including stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. It is illegal for a driver under 18 years old to use a cell phone—hand held or hands free, except to dial 911.

• Music and other controls – pre-program your favorite radio stations. Adjust mirrors, seat position, and heat/AC prior to travelling.

• Navigation. Have a passenger serve as co-pilot if possible.  If travelling alone, map out your destinations in advance.

• Eating/drinking. Try to avoid eating and drinking while driving, at least messy foods. Be sure food and drinks are secured.

The bottom line is simple; avoiding distracted driving is easy to do and just employs common sense. Please do yourself and your local law enforcement and emergency personnel a favor. If you see one of us on the side of the road with our emergency lights activated, slow down and move over if it is safe to do so. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the law and you could be saving a life.