INCREASED PENALTY FOR CAR ACCIDENT DRIVER USING CELL PHONE
KSTP recently reported about some success their reporting may have had in changing the penalty for causing a car accident while using a cell phone in Minnesota. In November, a KSTP investigation found instances of deadly car crashes involving cell phone use for which drivers spent little or no time in jail or prison. State Rep. Keith Franke, R-Cottage Grove, reacted to the story. He introduced a bill to make motor vehicle crashes which cause great bodily harm or death, and in which a cell phone or electronic device was proved as a contributing factor, a low-level felony. This is similar to current DUI penalties in MN.
KSTP found the relatively light jail sentences were handed down by judges across Minnesota because cell phone use while driving – even when contributing to a bad accident – falls under the broad legal umbrella of distracted driving. To elevate a distracted driving case to a felony, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the cell phone, or electronic device, was the key factor crashes causing death or serious injury.
Rep. Franke said this broad definition of distracted driving ties the hands of prosecutors when they charge a case. It also limits the sentences judges can impose. “Just about everybody now has a cell phone and brings it with them just about everywhere they go. We need to have the laws, and the penalties, adjusted to catch up with the technology and make it a true deterrent like DUI laws,” Franke said. “This bill allows prosecutors to charge a low-level felony when a cell phone or electronic device is a contributing factor to a car crash that causes great bodily injury or death. It no longer has to be the direct cause of the accident.”
CAR ACCIDENT BECAUSE OF CELL PHONE CHANGES LIVES
Ryan Verdeck’s wife, Penny, was killed while biking on County Road 3 in McLeod County in April 2015. The 19-year-old driver of the car which struck Verdeck received a 30-day sentence and lengthy probation. The judge in that case said the driver’s use of a cell phone just moments before the crash rose to the level of “appalling negligence.” The woman was only convicted of misdemeanor negligence, which Ryan Verdeck said did not amount to justice. He is now committed to strengthening laws, and penalties, for people whose cell phone use contributed to a crash causing death or serious injury.
“It won’t bring my wife back and it won’t bring my daughter’s mother home again, but I am hoping this newly proposed bill becomes law so the statute has some teeth in it. People will think twice before using their cell phone while driving,” Verdeck said. “And maybe, just maybe, another family will not have to go through what my family went through and then watch the party responsible get just a 30-day jail sentence for killing someone’s loved one.”
Car accidents where the other driver was using a cell phone has long been a frustration of our car accident lawyers. We have seen many serious MN auto crashes result from a driver on a cell phone. If you are injured in a MN car accident because the other driver was on a cell phone, call us and speak to an attorney for a free consultation. Our lawyers take these cell phone car accident cases very seriously and we will make sure you get all the compensation you are entitled to.