By Judge Paul Rasmussen
Tenth Judicial District
Who would have thought 20 years ago that cell phones would become such a pervasive part of the American driving experience?
The use of cell phones while driving has been the subject of many scientific studies of the distraction caused to attentive and safe driving.
A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that drivers generally took their eyes off the road for about five seconds while texting and driving, which translates to 440 feet of roadway at 60 miles per hour, longer than a football field. A University of Utah study found an eight times greater risk of a crash when texting while driving.
Minnesota law forbids texting while driving. Twenty-six states do not. In Minnesota, the use of a cell phone for texting or Internet access while operating a motor vehicle is illegal, except in cases of emergency.
However, teenage drivers may not use cell phones for any purpose while driving (except emergencies) including both for voice calls or text messaging or internet access. So far Minnesota has not gone as far as New York where any use of cell phones held up to one’s ear is illegal.
New technology is being utilized as a part of DWI sentencing to protect the public from repeat offenders. Ignition interlock devices have been ordered used by DWI repeat offenders. The driver must blow into the device, which then will allow ignition of the engine only if there is no alcohol registered in the breath sample.
Repeat offenders often are required to submit to alcohol monitoring through a home landline telephone which reports to a central monitoring company when the offender’s breath registers the use of alcohol.
There are also devices which measure the presence of alcohol through the skin and can alert those monitoring right away if the offender has consumed alcohol.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have improved greatly to allow repeat domestic abuse offenders to be monitored and arrested if they go within a designated distance of the victim’s home, for example 1,000 feet. The use of triangulation eliminates the need for a device in the victim’s home.
These devices allow for shorter response times from police if the offender goes to the home of the victim. GPS devices have been used in Minnesota to track predatory sex offenders.
“Sexting” is the practice of teenagers, young adults, and even some older adults, sending and receiving lewd digital photos of themselves or others by text messages, e-mail, or posting the photos on an Internet social community web site.
These images are sent or received for a variety of reasons. The sender may have taken the picture of themselves and are sending to a boyfriend/girlfriend or the sender may be trying to bully or harass the person in the picture.
This practice can result in a felony charge of distribution of child pornography under Minn. Stat. § 617.246, or a charge of harassing communications. Important for parents and teens to remember is that both the sender and the person receiving the images could be prosecuted under the statute.
For example, a teen who takes a picture of themselves and sends it to a boyfriend or girlfriend could be prosecuted under the statute, just as a teen who sends out a picture of someone else as a means of intimidation or bullying.
It is a serious problem and has resulted in Internet “bullying” of teens by other teens. “Cyberbullying” can include more than “sexting,” it can be posts on Facebook or MySpace pages, blog postings, or mass text messages.
More information on this problem may be found at www.stopcyberbullying.org. The Buffalo Police Department has prepared and presented at schools a program on the dangers of “sexting.”
Technology has enabled all of us to remain connected with family, friends, and work contacts, but it is also a source of mischief and serious danger for unsophisticated teens perpetrated by determined criminals.
Parents have a responsibility to their children to insure that use of cell phones and computers does not place them at risk of harm by predatory criminals, and also does not put them at risk of being criminally charged themselves.