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State Patrol Using New Tactic to Catch Distracted Drivers

Updated: 04/24/2014 1:15 PM
Created: 04/14/2014 10:43 PM KAALtv.com
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- Law enforcement is cracking down on distracted driving this week, using tactics that have never been used in our area before.

In the first three days of the distracted driving extra enforcement, preliminary numbers show more than 130 tickets have been issued statewide for texting while driving.

We rode along with the Minnesota State Patrol Monday. Where it’s more than just law enforcement helping to curb the problem.

Texting while driving, or any type of distraction, isn't so easy for law enforcement to catch in action. "If we don't see them using the phone or see what they’re doing in that vehicle, unless they admit the violation to us, it's difficult for us to say this is what happened,” said Lt. Heath Dienger, Minnesota State Patrol.

But with one in four crashes blamed on driver distraction, local law enforcers are trying something new to curb the problem. By getting up above most vehicles on the road and staying under cover.

"Being in a MnDOT pickup truck allows us to see those violations more often,” said Dienger.

The Minnesota State Patrol and other local agencies are partnering with MnDOT, by having one state trooper ride in a MnDOT maintenance vehicle as a spotter radioing ahead to another patrol car.

"Having more people out here at one time geared towards the same goal, it allows us to focus strictly on this initiative,” said Dienger.

A number of vehicles were stopped during Monday’s effort. "It is the first time we've partnered like this, so we're really excited about it,” said Kristine Hernandez, State Toward Zero Deaths Coordinator.

The distracted driving campaign has also turned to social media. "One way to reach that young adult audience, whether it is male or female is to tweet,” said Hernandez.

The Department of Public Safety has been live tweeting citations. The tweets show the age, gender location and type of infraction.

"They're operating a machine and they're not paying attention to where they're going,” said Dienger. Getting people to realize the dangers of texting behind the wheel, has law enforcers thinking outside of the box. "Those are the people who are dangerous on the roadways,” he said.

Law enforcement is also partnering enforcement with education.

Officers are handing out pamphlets at traffic stops. They show the personal stories of those killed because of distracted driving, like 17-year-old Deej Logan. The Byron High School senior was killed back in  2012 when she rear-ended a school bus. Authorities say she was texting at the time.