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Should penalties for distracted driving be harsher?

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We all know that drunk driving is bad. There's even a stigma to it. Sure, a single DUI might not derail a career, but repeat offenders - or those who cause serious injuries or death - are taken extremely seriously.

Distracted driving doesn't have that same stigma, even though studies have shown it to be just as deadly as driving drunk, contributing to a quarter of all crashes. Perhaps it's because we all do it to some extent. Yet some make a habit out of using their cellphones behind the wheel, and that's when the risk multiplies.

The tragic consequences of just a few seconds

The consequences of distracted driving can be horrendous. And the period of distraction involves more than just the few seconds you're glancing at your phone. It also includes the time you're taking your phone out and putting it away - both of which take your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.

Just last month, a driver was putting down his cellphone in the center console when he rear-ended another vehicle, killing a teacher and her 8-year-old daughter.

Taking responsibility as a society

Texting while driving is illegal in Minnesota, but the penalties aren't much of a deterrent - a $50 fine for the first offense, and $225 for subsequent citations. Additionally, it's hard for officers to tell when drivers are texting versus using a GPS app or dialing a phone number, making enforcement difficult.

When accidents do happen, drivers may end up facing criminal charges if they were recklessly using a cellphone. But those charges can't undo the harm that was done.

Ultimately, it's up to society as a whole to start taking distracted driving more seriously. It's just as dangerous as drunk driving - and should be considered just as unacceptable.

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