Special Report: The Fight Against Distracted Driving
Throughout Distracted Driving Awareness Month, 83 Citations Were Given to Distracted Drivers in the Duluth District
DULUTH, Minn. – According to the organization We Save Lives, millennials find distracted drivers scarier than public speaking, spiders, snakes and even death.
It’s why local advocates and law enforcement are continuing to spread a strong message to drivers who chose to engage in other activities while behind the wheel.
“When you’re driving, just concentrate on driving,” said Lt. Jason Hanson with the Minnesota State Patrol.
In today’s world, talking, texting and surfing the web have taken over.
“It’s a social network environment,” said Hanson.
Hanson and his team have their work cut out for them; seeing and stopping distracted drivers.
“We’re getting more and more successful with it,” said Hanson. “If we could find nobody breaking the law for texting and driving, using a phone, that would be our goal.”
But this isn’t the case. Statistics from 2012 to 2016 show nearly 300 people died on Minnesota roads, never making it to a final destination because of crashes due to distracted driving.
“People that started texting when they were younger are now getting older and people are graduating into it,” said Hanson.
Hanson says his team is pulling over more middle aged drivers than youth for distracted driving offenses.
“Our young drivers, in particular ones that are going through drivers ed; it’s now required by state law that they have available to them officers to come in and talk to not only the kids and parents,” said Hanson.
According to the Minnesota State Patrol, throughout April 83 citations have been given to distracted drivers in the Duluth district. Increased patrols have been part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
“We don’t want to find ourselves stopping citizens that aren’t committing a violation while at the same time trying to enforce the law and take action,” said Hanson.
Law enforcement say it’s difficult to patrol for drivers who aren’t giving full attention to the road. FOX 21 participated in a nearly three hour ride along with the State Patrol, stopping three suspected distracted drivers; two received citations.
“Some try to hide or obscure what they were doing,” said Hanson.
Both drivers were middle aged and confessed to being on their mobile device.
“Officers are getting smarter as well on enforcement techniques on what you can do to enforce distracted driving,” said Hanson.
It’s currently legal to make a call while driving in Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, future laws could take away this distracting privilege.
“Put your phone away somewhere where it’s not going to be easy to hear it go off or check what messages are coming in,” said Hanson.
CellSlip founder Mitch Bain isn’t a fan of distracted driving.
“In July of 2016 my wife and three of my youngest children were actually hit by a distracted driver,” said Bain. “If you saw people drinking and driving as much as you saw people texting while driving, there’d be a call for prohibition.”
FOX 21 first spoke with Bain in 2016 at the Toward Zero Death Conference in Duluth. It was here where Bain’s vision to combat distracted driving became a reality.
“We’ve gotten to work with Fortune 500 companies to families that have been really affected by distracted driving,” said Bain.
Since launching in 2016, Bain has sold more than 100,000 CellSlips across the world. For users, it’s pretty simple. Take your phone, open up the slip, and place your device inside. When you get to your destination, open it up and receive all text messages and notifications you received while driving.
“CellSlip alone will not decrease distracted driving, it happens with the education,” said Bain.
While Bain knows his product is only useful with the help of self motivation, he’s happy with feedback so far.
“If we can save one life it’s worth it,” said Bain. “We’ve also been selling them to schools to use in the classroom for distracted education.”
“I think the CellSlip is a great idea, especially for parents to buy for their teens, but in some cases teens should buy it for their parents,” said Candace Lightner, founder of “We Save Lives.”
A drunk driver commited a crime, killing Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter on May 3, 1980. This tragedy lit a fire for Lightner with fury and passion. She would become the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1980.
“People jumped in cars and drank and drove just like they do with cell phones now,” said Lightner in a Skype interview with FOX 21.
When Lightner was asked if distracted driving is a larger problem in the country now than drunk driving, she replied yes.
Lightner has since moved on from MADD, developing We Save Lives five years ago.
“We’ve become addicted to cell phones; we can’t live without a cell phone and unfortunately we take it into places where it has no business being,” said Lightner.
Now, partners across the globe are reaching out to We Save Lives, looking for help in the fight against drunk, drugged and distracted driving.
“Distracted driving doesn’t get the same attention as drunk and drugged driving, it isn’t generating the same kind of legislation and support by the legislators that drunk driving did,” said Lightner.
Rules for distracted driving vary from state to state. This legislative session in Minnesota, House and Senate lawmakers are considering a bill which would allow only hands-free use of cell phones. (House Bill HF 1180, Senate Bill SF 837)
“When I get in the car with a taxi driver, the first thing I say is thank you for not using a Bluetooth, because they’re equally dangerous,” said Lightner.
Lightner says she’s not pleased with the small progress made so far in the fight against distracted driving.
“I think we should have done much more much sooner,” said Lightner.
She believes it will take much longer to get eyes back on the road and away from the screen.
“We understand you’re going to be doing this, we understand you want to connect with people and be on your phones,” said Hanson.
Lt. Hanson, Mitch Bain and Candace Lightner may come from all different backgrounds but they do have one thing in common; a goal to get drivers to look up and lawmakers to look forward before it’s too late.
Lightner encourages drivers to join in on the #butnotwhiledriving movement.
She also wants drivers and passengers to have the courage to intervene when they know someone is going to be driving drunk, drugged or distracted.
Click here for more information about We Save Lives.
Throughout May you can purchase one CellSlip for $14.95 and receive one free.
In May, the Minnesota State Patrol and local agencies will be out patrolling for extra seatbelt enforcement.