On Aug. 1, Minnesota became the 19th state to pass a hands-free law, making it illegal (rather than just a bad idea) to use a cell phone or other mobile device while driving. But despite the stiff financial penalties for violating the law — $50 for the first offense, $275 for each additional offense, plus court fees — some Minnesotans still don't seem to grasp the seriousness of distracted driving. Reports of violators started rolling in almost as soon as the new law took effect. (One driver was even cited while, get this, texting about the new law.)
We don't need to lecture you about the dangers of distracted driving, or tell you that you're roughly four times more likely to cause a crash when using your phone while driving. You already know that. But sometimes it takes a good scare in a controlled environment to, ahem, drive home that reality. Which is why Mayo Clinic's Trauma Center in Rochester purchased a series of distracted driving simulators a few years ago.
"Taking your eyes off the road to look down at the phone for five seconds or less is like driving the length of a football field blindfolded," Todd Emanuel, a nurse in the Trauma Center, tells KIMT 3 News. That, he says, is the point of Mayo's distracted driving simulators: to give drivers a clear (but safe) understanding of just how fast a crash can happen. About 23 percent of crashes nationwide are caused by distracted driving, Emanuel tells KIMT.
Reporter Katie Lange took a spin in one of Mayo's simulators on the eve of Minnesota's new hands-free law, and her experience was much the same as others who have attempted to get through it unscathed. "Three, two, even one second is all it takes for devastation to unfold," Lange says as her distracted driving simulation begins.
For Lange, that "devastation" includes swerving, running a stop sign and even driving the wrong way on the simulated road while texting. By the time her distracted driving simulation ends, Lange not only has "the police on my tail," but a clear understanding of "just how bad my driving skills are while texting."
Kim Lombard, Injury Prevention Coordinator for Mayo's Level 1 Trauma Center in Rochester, oversees the simulators and their use by driver's education classes and community organizations. She says the simulators show users just how easily they can become distracted behind the wheel — not only by phones, but by other everyday distractors like bright sunlight, pedestrians, other motorists and passengers, and animals on the road. "It's a pretty cool visual tool that lets people really see that driving while distracted is not easy and not safe," Lombard tells us. "Telling someone not to do something isn't really as effective as giving them a chance to learn for themselves what they should and shouldn't do behind the wheel." (You don't need to text us twice.)
Mayo's distracted driving simulators are available for use by companies and organizations throughout southeastern Minnesota. For more information or to take your turn behind the simulated wheel, contact Lombard. Then veer over to leave a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.