After over 12 years of bringing legislation to enhance the penalty for causing a serious non-alcohol related crash resulting in death or serious injury to the state legislature in Minnesota, the coalition finally had a victory. The coalition was made up of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, Minnesota Bicycle Alliance, and ABATE of Minnesota which is the educational group for Motorcyclists.
In Minnesota if you cause a crash with injury or death and you were DWI or DUI you will be charged with a felony. But if drugs or alcohol were not involved, the driver would be charged either with a traffic violation that may become a misdemeanor or with a careless driving misdemeanor. Recently a couple of texting cases have been charged with a felony. In Minnesota, a misdemeanor is a crime with a possibility of 90 days in jail and/or a$1000 fine and 1 year probation. The license suspension is 90 days for injury and 180 days for death.
What the group had been asking for these many years was to enhance the penalty to a gross misdemeanor if death or serious injury was the result of these crashes. (Minnesota uses a gross misdemeanor the way many states use low level felonies) A gross misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and/or $3000 fine and 2 years’ probation.
We had always wanted a straight enhancement of the penalty for all careless driving chargeable crashes but some in the legislature, and it only takes a few in a committee, just did not want to enhance the penalty for “simple” distracted driving. We were going to fail again if we didn’t change the language to make it for those that should have known that their driving behavior was dangerous. For some reason long ago, our statue had both careless and reckless being a misdemeanor but the definition of reckless was such a high standard that it was rarely used. We chose to change the reckless language and enhance that charge. This seemed to make the difference and our bill was finally passed and signed by the Governor last week.
The new legislation is here: Minnesotans for Safe Driving New Legislation. This law will not mandate the enhancement, the prosecutor can still charge the careless that will not be enhanced, but it will allow a prosecutor to charge a reckless that will be enhanced or if they can prove a higher standard of negligence the prosecutor can charge a felony. Only time will tell how judges and juries will feel about the change. Right now very few are getting much in the way of jail time, but the public is changing on how they feel about these non-alcohol related crashes especially if cell phones are used. But one of the main reasons for wanting the enhancement was for the victims and their families. All other crimes are enhanced for personal injury or death. You could hit a pole while driving with no injury, or do aggressive driving, or get 3 speeding tickets in a year and be charged a misdemeanor, but if you killed someone the charge was still only a misdemeanor. Having the offender charged with the term Careless seemed to lessen the action taken by that offender many victims told me. The word reckless was more appropriate. Hopefully our change in statue will help other states in passing stronger penalties for non-alcohol related crashes.
Legislative Liaison for Minnesotans for Safe Driving
Minnesotans for Safe Driving is a We Save Lives partner