Updated 2 p.m. | Posted 10 a.m.
Citations for texting-while-driving in Minnesota jumped last year and have more than doubled since 2014, state officials said Friday as they pleaded with people to understand the dangers.
The texting numbers leaped even as tickets for speeding and seat belt use declined, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said as it released data for the past five years.
More than 7,300 citations were handed out for texting last year, up from about 3,500 in 2014 and 1,700 in 2012.
Distracted driving, speeding, lack of seat belt use and impaired driving continue to play a major role in deaths and serious injuries on Minnesota roads, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. Among the grim findings from the data:
• Drivers continue to text and access the internet while behind the wheel.
• Distracted driving contributes to 1 in 4 crashes in Minnesota.
• Distracted driving contributes to an average of 59 deaths and 223 serious injuries a year (2012-2016).
In Minnesota, drivers can talk on their cell phones, hands-free or not. That makes it hard for officers to catch people handling the devices for other tasks, including texting and emailing.
"If you can't have the phone in your hand, it's going to be much easier to enforce the texting law," said Nancy Johnson, legislative director for Minnesotans for Safe Driving, a group backing legislation requiring that all cell phone use by drivers be hands-free.
The Department of Public Safety has testified in support of requiring any use of phones in vehicles to be hands-free. A bill is expected to get a hearing next week.
Crashes that result from motorists messing around with their mobile phones are absolutely preventable, said Mike Hanson, director of the state Office of Traffic Safety.
"It's an individual choice. Do I pick up the phone? Or do I pay attention to the driving task," he said. "That's what we're asking and encouraging all drivers to do. Put that phone down. Drive safely."
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