The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is stepping up efforts to educate the public about the dangers of texting while driving.
The department released stark TV spots showing fatal crash victims texting from body bags at a morgue. An attendant explains to the victims that texting from behind the wheel caused their deadly crashes.
The department also plans to lead a statewide distracted driving enforcement effort Thursday. Police officers and state troopers will be looking for drivers who are texting, emailing or browsing the web on their cell phones.
All of these activities are illegal under Minnesota law. State law also prohibits drivers under age 18 from using a cell phone while behind the wheel.
Driver distraction accounts for about 20 percent of all crashes in Minnesota, department officials said.
Captain Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol hopes the campaign will encourage drivers to focus on the road. "A lot of it is just bad habits," he said.
Langer said drivers get distracted for all sorts of reasons, not just texting. "It ranges from reading, putting on makeup, brushing your teeth, reading a book," he said. "We've seen all these behaviors."
Minnesota is one of 30 states that prohibit texting while driving. Eight states havebanned any use of handheld cell phones while driving.
Nearly 400 agencies will participate in the enforcement effort tomorrow.