By Kim Norton
Headlines in the last few days should make us all pause for a moment. The Rochester Post Bulletin headlines read as follows: "Lewiston-Altura students grieve for friends killed in rollover." "State Patrol: Car wreck kills six."
I'm sure most Minnesotans have reacted with the same sadness over the devastating loss of life. Our hearts ache with compassion for the families, friends and classmates of those affected by these accidents. Tragedies like this should cause us all to renew our efforts in the area of education and compliance with life-saving automobile laws.
Minnesota has made great strides in improving traffic safety in the past several years. New laws restrict texting and e-mailing while driving, mandate graduated drivers' licenses for teens and expand the requirements for booster seats. A primary seat belt law now covers everyone in a car. And this year we are attempting to strengthen laws regarding DWIs by using ignition interlock devices.
While laws may be passed, it is also necessary to make certain these life-saving reforms are well publicized and that compliance is ensured. The Department of Public Safety has held press conferences, posted electronic messages along the roadways and sent out press releases. The state also relies on driver training programs to spread the word to our new drivers. But additional means of spreading information and notification are needed so that preventable injuries and devastating deaths can be avoided.
Below are some details of current law:
No texting or e-mailing for any driver while driving.
For the first six months after licensure, there is no driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.
For the first six months after licensure, only one passenger under the age of 20 is permitted unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. For six months after that, only three passengers are allowed. There are exemptions for family members.
Seat belt use is required for every driver and passenger in a vehicle.
Children and youth weighing less than 40 pounds must be in an approved booster seat.
Driving is prohibited among adults with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or more. For younger drivers, all alcohol use is prohibited.
My heart goes out to the families and communities that have suffered this devastating loss. I hope that in response to these tragedies we will renew road-safety outreach efforts and better inform motorists about the life-saving policies on the books in Minnesota. Doing so will go far to prevent future injuries and fatal accidents on Minnesota roads.
Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, is a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. She was an author of legislation imposing graduated limits on newly licensed drivers.