Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Road trip stories: New York’s solution to texting & driving July 29, 2016

Text stop sign in New York

Posted along Interstate 90 in upstate New York.

WE COULD LEARN A THING or two from New York State about efforts to reduce/eliminate texting while driving.

On a recent road trip from Minnesota to the East Coast, I noticed signs along Interstate 90 in New York advising motorists, “It can wait… Text stop parking area 1 mile/5 miles.”

Brilliant. Instead of simply complaining and admonishing, New York State is offering a solution—a place for motorists to pull off thruways and state highways specifically to text. And, yes, motorists were using those no amenities text stop parking areas.

Additionally, New York state law bans drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone or portable electronic device while driving. The state is even considering implementing use of a Textalyzer, a roadside test to check cell phone usage.

In Minnesota, drivers 18 and older can talk on their cell phones while driving. But no driver can legally text.

Texting while driving in Wisconsin

When the ION stopped in front of our van for road construction, I photographed it and wrote down the license plate number. (And, yes, I cropped the full license plate from this image.)

In neighboring Wisconsin, drivers also cannot text while driving. But that doesn’t stop some. Last Friday afternoon my husband and I watched a silver ION weave on Wisconsin Highway 21 about 20 miles east of Tomah. The driver’s behavior was so dangerous that we stayed a safe distance behind as his car crossed multiple times into the oncoming lane and then back toward the shoulder. And not just barely over the center line, but significantly over. Not until we were stopped by road work did we get close enough to the ION for me to photograph the car and to observe the driver’s head down in texting position. I was prepared to call 911, but we had no cell coverage in this area near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  Later, when we pulled off the highway into Necedah behind the ION driver, I saw him parked and texting. I wanted to stop, rap on his window and ask him what was so important that he had to endanger other motorists by texting while driving on a very busy Wisconsin state highway.

Laws are only as good as their enforcement. Therein lies part of the problem. With limited resources, cops can’t possibly be everywhere. So maybe New York is on to something. Offer an option to texting while driving other than “Don’t text. It’s the law.”

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Real stories from troopers about distracted driving in Minnesota April 22, 2016

Photographed along Interstate 35 between Medford and Faribault, northbound lane.

Photographed along Interstate 35 between Medford and Faribault, northbound lanes.

THE MINNESOTA STATE PATROL, on its Twitter account, asks this question: Is a text more important than the life in your car or the one next to you?

As law enforcement agencies across the state crack down on distracted driving during April, it becomes undeniably clear that texting while driving is a major problem. We all knew that. Right? Yet we continue to engage in behavior that endangers us and others. Our need to constantly be connected is a tough habit to kick.

Said a 25-year-old woman stopped recently by a trooper along 35E in the metro: “It’s such a habit.” She claimed to be unaware that she was texting. Really?

This billboard sponsored by Federated Insurance of Owatonna stands along Steele County Road 45 that runs parallel to Interstate 35 just north of Owatonna.

This billboard sponsored by Federated Insurance stands along Steele County Road 45 north of Owatonna. CR45 runs parallel to Interstate 35. The photo of the young girl on the billboard personalizes the message.

But a semi truck driver along I-90 clearly knew he was texting. His phone was Velcroed to his steering wheel. When a trooper stopped him for weaving and crossing out of his lane, he admitted to texting his kids. Really?

West of Fosston, a driver was stopped for changing speeds with her head down. The young mother admitted to texting. Her infant was in the back seat. Really?

This message is posted just north of Faribault along the northbound lanes of Interstate 35.

This message is posted just north of Faribault along the northbound lanes of Interstate 35.

In Shakopee, a trooper stopped a 37-year-old man who was looking online for a karate facility address while driving. Really?

And how about this one: A 27-year-old man was cited in Duluth for reading texts with his right hand, drinking with his left and steering with his knees. Really?

Is a text more important than the life in your car or the one next to you?

Be safe on the roads this weekend, my friends.

FYI: Click here to read the Minnesota Patrol Twitter page. And click here to read #SpeakUpMN, what Minnesotans are saying about distracted driving.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road with distracted & dangerous drivers April 13, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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TRAVELING ALONG 35E in the south metro recently, we pulled alongside an empty car carrier. My husband joked that he should move over and drive our van up the ramp and hitch a ride.

In this photo taken of the front passenger side mirror, you can see how close the tailgater is to our van.

In this photo taken of the front passenger side mirror, you can see how close the tailgater is to our van.

Some two hours later, retracing our route, a car followed us so close I thought it would drive up the rear of our van. We weren’t laughing. Such tailgating rates as irresponsible and dangerous.

I zoomed in on the tailgating driver who couldn't wait to get around us. I've obscured his license plate; lucky him.

I zoomed in on the tailgating driver who couldn’t wait to get around us. I’ve obscured his license plate; lucky him.

What’s so important that a driver must snug nearly as tight as a puzzle piece into another vehicle? Instead of waiting for Randy to move into the right lane when traffic conditions safely allowed, this driver tailgated us, then zoomed to the right around us, squeezing between our van and a car. I might have said something like idiot.

This week, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is focusing on the dangers of distracted driving. More than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state are participating in this extra enforcement effort. In Moorhead, police officers have found an innovative way to catch drivers who are texting or otherwise engaging in dangerous behavior. They are riding in school buses, giving them a bird’s eye view into vehicles. How clever is that?

Tell me, what have you seen on the roadways that made you want to shout idiot?

How can we curb this ongoing problem of irresponsible and distracted driving that’s endangering, injuring and killing innocent people?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling