A new Minnesota law that went into effect last Thursday prohibits drivers from using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle unless it can be done by voice commands or single touch activation. Officers have come across very few people driving while holding cell phones after the law went into effect.
Too many vehicle crashes are related to people not paying attention to their driving or the condition of their vehicle. It is not just cell phones that are a distraction. I have witnessed people eating breakfast cereal out of a bowl, reading a book or newspaper and putting on makeup while driving. I swear some people have their dogs permanently attached to their laps.
One of the most egregious things I witnessed was a man who was cleaning out his car while driving. His car was wandering all over the road as he bent down to pick things up off the floor and throw trash out his driver’s window. He was oblivious to the fact that a marked police car was following right behind him. I had seen enough when he tossed a full copy of the Sunday newspaper out the window. I stopped him and issued a ticket. In fact, I threatened to write him a ticket for every page in the Sunday newspaper if he didn’t promptly go pick it all up.
Sometimes people are distracted by their emotions. Last week, I was patrolling River Road in an unmarked police car. In my rearview mirror, I saw an SUV steer over to the right shoulder and pass a car that was making a left turn. “A bit of a hurry this afternoon,” I thought. The vehicle quickly came up behind me in the 40 mph speed zone. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road as the SUV zoomed past me.
I steered back into the traffic lane and paced the SUV, clocking it at 53 mph in the 40 mph zone. I turned on the squad car’s red lights. The SUV pulled to the shoulder and came to a stop. I walked up to speak with the driver. She was very upset and crying. She tried handing me her vehicle insurance card. No doubt, she was so upset that she thought it was her driver’s license. I asked her, “What’s wrong?” She replied, “I am sorry. I know I screwed up. I was wrong. I am just trying to get home to my husband. He is very sick.” No doubt, she was distracted by her husband’s illness.
Later that afternoon, I brought my squad car to a stop at a traffic light on Fourth Street. A pickup truck pulling a construction trailer entered Fourth Street from Highway 2. My attention was drawn to it because of the loud exhaust on the pickup truck. I caught up with the truck as it swung into the Burger King parking lot. I noticed that a brake light on the trailer was burned out.
I turned on the red lights just as the truck pulled into the drive through. Now what do I do? Do I block the drive through lane while I deal with this driver? Thankfully, the driver steered his truck off to the side and came to a stop. Good move.
I walked up to the driver’s window and asked the driver for his license. He handed me a Minnesota Identification Card. I pointed out this was an identification card and not a driver’s license. “I just got my driver’s license reinstated but I don’t have the paperwork with me. It is at home,” he replied. Gee, I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard that. I pointed out to him that his brake light was burned out and that his exhaust was very loud. He told me, “I just bought this used truck.” I wondered if he wanted me to believe that if one purchases a used truck, that mufflers are optional. It must be the same way with some motorcycles we hear coming through town. I am sure that he is so distracted in running his construction company that vehicle maintenance is an afterthought.
Just then, the emergency tones came over the police radio. I had to respond to the emergency. I thanked him, handing him back his driver’s license and told him to check with the State to make sure his driver’s license is, indeed valid. I also told him that he had to fix his exhaust and the trailer brake light as well as replace his windshield that was cracked all the way across.
The next morning, I ran a check on his driver’s license. His driver’s license status was “Revoked” for Fleeing from a Police Officer in a Motor Vehicle. We will visit the next time he drives through town.