An attempt to toughen penalties for people busted repeatedly for texting while driving ran into trouble on Tuesday night when Rep. Steve Drazkowski tried to broaden it to apply to bicyclists.
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, offered an amendment to the House transportation bill, which would boost the fines for people caught multiple times texting while driving. Specifically, it would boost the fine for drivers caught texting while driving for the second time within a year from $50 to $350. Drivers who get cited for a third violation within a year would face a $500 fine and the judge would have the option of taking away their wireless device.
Atkins said these tougher penalties are needed to send a message that texting while driving will not be tolerated.
"Driving a vehicle while texting is six times more likely to cause an accident than intoxicated driving," Atkins said.
But the amendment ran into problems when Drazkowski successfully broadened it to apply to bicyclists who text. Instead of allowing the wireless device to be seized on a third offense, it would allow a judge to seize a defendant's car or bicycle for up to 30 days.
"If we truly want to make government this big for all of Minnesota, we probably want to make certain it's this big for everybody," the Mazeppa Republican said.
He added, "I'm concerned if we have bicyclists — especially in metropolitan areas in our state — that are bicycling and texting we could be putting them at extra, extra disadvantage and placing them in harm's way."
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said it's unfair to equate texting while driving a car with texting while bicycling.
"When you are texting when you are driving, you are not just putting yourself at risk. You are putting other people at risk," Libeling said.
Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, said bicyclists are already required to follow all traffic laws so the ban on texting already applies.
During the debate, Drazkowski pointed out that New York City recently considered a ban on texting while bicycling and "because if New York City did it, Minnesota has to do it too — right Democrats?"
The House narrowly approved Drazkowski's move to amend Atkins' amendment by a vote of 69 to 62. After it passed, he urged members to vote against the measure.
The idea that a judge could seize a driver's car for a texting violation proved to be too harsh a penalty for the texting amendment's backers to accept. Atkins ended up withdrawing the amendment and said he was "awfully disappointed" by Drazkowski's actions.