Eagan Senator Wants Steeper Penalties for Careless Drivers Involved in Deadly Crashes

In Dakota County alone, nine drivers prosecuted for careless driving have killed a total of 14 people in recent years, according to the county attorney.

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Careless or reckless drivers whose actions cause a deadly accident or severe injuries could face steeper penalties under a new bill proposed by District 51 Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL), who represents Eagan.

The bill, SF 206, was authored by Carlson and introduced to the Senate on Jan. 31. Senators Jim Metzen (DFL), Katie Sieben (DFL) and Greg Clausen (DFL) are listed as co-authors on the legislation.

Current Minnesota laws prevent prosecutors from charging careless drivers with anything more significant than a misdemeanor—even if that driver's behavior caused a death or severe injuries. In Minnesota, the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor crime is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Carlson's proposal would allow drivers whose careless actions caused a death or great bodily harm to face gross misdemeanor charges. A person convicted of a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota could be sentenced to a maximum of one year in prison and $3,000 in fines.

Under Carlson's bill, careless or reckless behavior includes texting, talking on a cell phone except in a hands-free manner, street racing and falling asleep while driving, among other conditions.

The bill—one of Carlson's first as a sitting Senator this session—addresses a gap in Minnesota's legal system, Carlson said.

“I think we just don’t have a serious enough charge to appropriately address these kinds of incident where someone is willfully paying no attention to their driving, and causes a death," Carlson said.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who has tried to get similar measures passed in the Minnesota Legislature since 2006, is a strong proponent of Carlson's legislation. In Dakota County alone, nine drivers prosecuted for careless driving have killed a total of 14 people in recent years, Backstrom said.

The high-profile cases include a driver who killed two construction workers in Burnsville in 2011, and an Inver Grove Heights woman who caused the death of three others following a 2008 crash.

"I don't believe the penalty should be the same for killing someone or causing serious injuries to someone as for leaving the road and hitting a mailbox," Backstrom said on Wednesday.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the legislation makes it to the Senate floor, Backstrom is confident that it will be approved.

Both Backstrom and Carlson said they hope the bill also gets people who talk on or use cell phones or smart phones in the car to think twice about their actions.

"I think it will send a clear message that everyone needs to take precautions to be safe while their driving a car, we have far too much dist driving going on with cell phones and text messaging," Backstrom said.

What do you think of Sen. Jim Carlson's proposal? Post a comment with your thoughts in the comments feed below.

P. Hoffinger February 07, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Definitely something needs to be done to encourage attention to driving, when multi-tasking like cell phone use can result in traffic fatalities. Hands-free use and other measures can promote safe driving.
Rosco February 07, 2013 at 03:45 PM
Yes, we need much stronger punishment for those who kill others because they are not paying attention. Using cell phones and texting while driving shows the same probability of getting in an accident as someone who is drunk. Stronger punishment is long over due. Thank you Senator Carlson.
Thomas Anderson February 07, 2013 at 05:25 PM
Well done Senator Carlson!
Deb M February 08, 2013 at 12:00 AM
We often see the carnage left by careless drivers and it is time they be treated like the menace they are. Thank you Senator Carlson!
Karen DeBaun February 08, 2013 at 02:44 AM
I was hit by a careless driver ( on a phone) several years ago, and luckily lived to tell about it! I strongly support this!
Brent Jacobson February 10, 2013 at 08:39 PM
I am left wondering what the unintended consequences of this law, for example if someone has an allergic reaction causing them to have a sneezing fit, watery eyes, or something like that and they crash and injure someone or worse yet kill someone would they be guilty of this crime?
Deb M February 11, 2013 at 08:06 AM
Brent, I do not believe they issue careless driving charges when there is a medical emergency. This law is about being able to charge and sentence appropriately when death occurs due to careless driving.
Steve Scholl March 17, 2013 at 09:02 PM
The idea is great. It has my complete support, but how one determines guilt and causality are questions of concern. How do you prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that someone was careless? How do you prove, conclusively, that the carelessness actually caused something else? It would be nice to have the legislation, but I wonder if a good attorney will just shred it to pieces? steve scholl


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