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Paynesville Press - January 4, 2006

Law targets new motorists who drive and dial

The sounds of ring tones will be "answered" by the Paynesville Police Department and other Minnesota law enforcement agencies if learning drivers are caught dialing and driving starting Jan. 1, 2006. Roughly 400,000 drivers with learning permits or provisional licenses - a majority of whom are teens - will face a new law prohibiting driving and using a cell phone in 2006.

The new law - passed by the Minnesota Legislature in July 2005 - carries a potential fine of up to $100 plus court costs.

Cell phone use is one of the biggest distractions for motorists. In 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cited cell phone use as a factor in 2,600 traffic deaths. In Minnesota, it is conservatively estimated that at least 14,000 motorists are on the phone and behind the wheel at any given time.

"Driving is a multi-tasking activity, so all other distractions need to be limited," said Paynesville Police Chief Kent Kortlever. "When you combine cell phone use and other distractions to driving, it's a recipe for a crash."

Those in violation of the new law - which is categorized as a moving violation - will face delays in obtaining a non-provisional driving license. In Minnesota, permit holders under age 18 must maintain a driving record free of any moving violations for six months to be eligible for provisional driving privileges. At age 18, drivers can secure their non-provisional license.

Teens are disproportionately represented in traffic crashes and fatalities. From 2000 to 2004, nearly 300 16- to 18-year-olds were killed on Minnesota roads.

The Paynesville Police Department advises all motorists to make efforts to curb cell phone use and other driving distractions, though the new law only applies mostly to new teen drivers.

"You may be an experienced driver, but that doesn't make it safe to drive distracted," said Kortlever. "Take your ears off the phone, put your hands on the wheel, and keep your mind on the road."

Eleven states and the District of Columbia restrict cell phone use among novice drivers, and some states and municipalities ban hand-held cell phone use for all drivers.

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