Lawmakers consider bill to ban cell phones in construction zones

Lawmakers consider bill to ban cell phones in construction zones

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

The snow is melting, and that means road construction season is approaching -- but before the orange cones start to appear, lawmakers are nearing a decision on a bill that would ban cell phone use in work zones.

The number of crashes at construction sites over the past 10 years is staggering, and some state lawmakers believe imposing a new series of fines could reverse the trend.

"We prohibit cell phone use in work zones with workers are present," Rep. Ron Erhardt summed up.

At a legislative hearing held Wednesday, lawmakers took up a bill that would force drivers to hang up their phones in construction zones.

If adopted, Minnesota wouldn't be the first state to try to compel motorists to keep off their phones when construction workers are near. Virginia launched an "Orange Cones No Phones" campaign one year ago.

The bill was drafted with good intentions -- to reduce crashes and worker deaths because Minnesota's track record over the last decade has not been good. More than 21,000 construction-zone crashes have injured 9,000 people and killed 96. Six of those victims were construction workers, including two who were killed along Interstate 35W in Burnsville in 2011.

Yet, some lawmakers are skeptical that the law could be enforced.

"We can't afford to put an officer at every site," Rep. Alice Hausman said. "So, what do we do?"

The bill's authors hope that dropping the speed limit to 45 mph and raising the fine to $300 will be enough to achieve results.

"If you are shown that, if you don't follow what's expected of you, that you're going to pay a fine at this level, I think more people will pay attention and adjust their behavior accordingly," Tim Worke, with Associate General Contractors, said.

As for those who enforce laws, they say the bill could be a step in the right direction.

"Anything that we can do to slow down in the work zones and obey speed limits makes perfect sense," Bruce Gordon, of the Department of Public Safety, said.

Gordon added that the Minnesota State Patrol and officers from local agencies would be on the lookout if the bill passes and becomes law.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation did conduct research which found the signs that warn drivers that fines double in work zones have actually become somewhat meaningless; however, survey results also showed signs that post specific dollar amounts are more effective.

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