More than 300 Minnesota law enforcement agencies will soon launch a statewide campaign to crackdown on distracted drivers.
Starting Monday through April 17, officers will work overtime to enforce the state's law banning texting while driving.
"People's addiction to their phone and their need to feel constantly connected is reaching epidemic levels," said Donna Berger, the state's Office of Traffic Safety director.
Minnesota business groups and companies — including AAA Minneapolis, Cargill, AT&T Minnesota, Comcast Cable — joined the Department of Public Safety at a press conference Wednesday to speak against the dangers of distracted driving.
"We've an epidemic that's threatening the lives and the well-being of our great Minnesota families, and that epidemic is distracted driving," said Jeff Fetters, president of Federated Insurance.
Drivers face a $50 fine for the first texting-while-driving offense. For a subsequent offense, the fine jumps to $275, according to Berger.
Fetters said low gas prices are encouraging more people to drive. That combined with many drivers who have access to smartphones, he said, has created "more traffic crashes than the insurance industry is seen in decades."
Distracted driving was a factor in more than 17,000 crashes in 2015, which caused 74 deaths and 174 serious injuries, according to DPS. Law enforcement officers cited 909 drivers for texting while driving during a 2015 campaign that targeted distracted drivers, a 65 percent increase from the previous year.
"Next time you think about picking up your phone or being distracted behind the wheel with whatever it may be, think about our neighbors, think about our co-workers," Minnesota State Patrol spokesperson Lt. Tiffani Nielson said.