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State Patrol will use unmarked squad cars to target distracted drivers

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The State Patrol will combat distracted driving by using unmarked squad cars in five areas around the state.

The agency said Monday morning Brainerd, Marshall, Mankato and the east and west Twin Cities metro will each get one of five new unlabeled squad cars, as the patrol targets distracted drivers.

Last year, driver inattention was a factor in 61 deaths and more than 7,000 injuries on Minnesota roads, the State Patrol said in an email news release. There have been two deadly crashes in the past three months where distracted driving was suspected.

In April, a distracted driving crackdown resulted in more than 900 motorists being cited – for reasons including eating peanuts, doing a math problem, and having no hands on the wheel.

The Minnesota State Patrol says it has investigated at least two deadly crashes where driver distraction was suspected in just the last three months.

In October, a Minnesota 17-year-old was charged in connection with a crash that killed 54-year-old Charles Maurer of Becker and his 10-year-old daughter Casey. She is accused of using her cell phone while behind the wheel, ignoring several requests from one of her passengers to put down the phone, according to the charges.

A man known as "Mr. New Prague" was also killed last month after being hit by a suspected distracted driver.

Adjusting music, eating or drinking, reading, among other tasks can cause drivers to take their attention off the road, which can be dangerous or even fatal, the Department of Public Safety says.

One of the most common distractions of course is phones. Under Minnesota's "No Texting" law, it's illegal for drivers to read or send texts or email, or access the Web while a car is part of traffic (including being at a stoplight or stop sign).

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