Driven to distraction? 10-day crackdown on multi-taskers starts Friday

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Sipping a cup of coffee at a stoplight doesn't seem so bad.

But if it becomes a gateway behavior to eating, shaving, or texting while driving, it could be the death of you. Or perhaps lighten your wallet by a few hundred dollars.

As FOX 9 reports, 400 agencies across Minnesota are taking part in a 10-day campaign to step up distracted driving enforcement beginning Friday.

Safety officials say from 2009 through 2013 one-fourth of the crashes on Minnesota roads were caused by distractions. The Department of Public Safety says that translates to an average of 60 deaths and 8,000 injuries per year.

WCCO reports that during the upcoming enforcement binge some officers plan to ride in buses, allowing them to see down into passing vehicles. A trailing squad car will be poised to pull over and ticket any driver whose attention is divided.

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Law enforcement officials announcing the crackdown were joined by a southeastern Minnesota man who described how distracted driving led to the death of his 17-year-old daughter, FOX 47 reports.

The station says Matt Logan explained she had just finished the first day of her senior year at Byron High School when the fatal crash occurred. "Because she was composing a text when she ran into the back of a school bus that was stopped on County 5, she never got to turn 18, and she never got to graduate from high school," Logan said.

Reading or composing a text message or email is against the law in Minnesota. FOX 47 says a ticket can cost a driver $300.

State officials say 388 tickets were issued in 2009, when the Legislature first enacted the texting prohibition. By last year that had ballooned to more than 2,100.

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The beefed up enforcement is spearheaded by the Toward Zero Deaths campaign, which reaches across various state agencies to improve highway safety.

The campaign has set a goal of reducing traffic deaths from 377 in 2013 to 350 this year. Currently Minnesota has three fewer deaths than at the same time last year.

Texting may be the poster child for distracted driving, but there are plenty of other ways for motorists to divert their attention. In its announcement Thursday the Department of Public Safety mentions attending to rowdy passengers, adjusting music or other controls, eating, and even daydreaming.

Donna Berger, who directs the Department's Office of Traffic Safety, says: “It’s a myth to think we can multitask behind the wheel. The reality is distractions take our attention away from the important task of driving."

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