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Law enforcement focusing Thursday on distracted driving

Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske describes how law enforcement will be cracking down on distracted driving Thursday across the state. "Your focus behind the wheel is far more important than the text message you are sending or reading behind the wheel," he said. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker1 / 2
East Ridge High School student Blair Ginnever speaks Wednesday during a news conference announcing a crackdown on distracted driving. Ginnever spoke on behalf of the school's Students Against Drunken Driving program. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker2 / 2

Billy Stout said he's guilty - he used to text and drive.

The East Ridge High School senior said as recently as six months ago, he sent off messages using his cell phone, even going so far to memorize the where the buttons were on his keypad in hopes of keeping his eyes on the road.

The habit didn't go unnoticed by friends.

"I said, 'Billy, just give me your phone and tell me what to say,'" said East Ridge classmate Jessica Samii.

Bad driving habits won't go unnoticed tomorrow by law enforcement, either.

The state's Department of Public Safety announced that distracted driving will be the "total focus of law enforcement" all day Thursday.

"This isn't something to be taken lightly," Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske said during a press conference held Wednesday at East Ridge in Woodbury. "When you're behind the wheel, you need to be focused on driving."

Nearly 400 agencies will step up patrols around Minnesota, ticketing drivers who exhibit distracted driving behavior - a leading factor in Minnesota's crashes. Twenty percent of all Minnesota crashes stemmed from distracted driving, according to the state.

Minnesota law prohibits drivers from reading, composing or sending texts and e-mails while a vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. The law also governs accessing the Web with a wireless device.

"Put those distractions behind you," Roeseke said during the announcement.

The message connected with East Ridge students on hand for the press conference.

John Stephens, a senior, said passengers need to speak up if drivers are being distracted with phone messages.

"It's our responsibility as passengers to take the phone away," he said.

Sure, that can make for an awkward exchange between friends, Samii said, "but at least you're taking care of yourself."

Safety, Stephens said, is the name of the game.

"What's worse - an awkward moment or possibly endangering your life and others?" he said.

Law enforcement officials said the answer is clear, especially when considering the numbers. Last year distracted driving resulted in 70 deaths and 350 injuries, according to public safety officials.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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