We’ve seen it happen all too often in the Alexandria area – a driver more focused on the cell phone in their lap than on the road ahead.

It’s a classic case of an accident waiting to happen.

And it appears the distractions go beyond texting or talking. Drivers are engaging in social media as they barrel down the road, their eyes focused on their phone as they cover three football fields in 5 seconds.

A new poll shows that one in 1 in 10 Minnesotans use social media while they’re behind the wheel.

The nationwide totals are a cause for alarm:

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  • Almost 1 in 5 have taken a selfie while driving.

  • Eighteen percent of drivers are unaware it’s illegal to use a cellphone while driving.

Gunther Volkswagen of Fort Lauderdale, Florida commissioned the survey of 3,100.

“We’re used to a certain level of distraction while we’re driving – listening to a podcast about serial killers, or catching up with the sports news on local radio,” said a spokesperson for the company. “But these kinds of things require us to be passive, and don’t require our hands to leave the wheel. However, due to everyone’s increased obsession with social media, it’s become more common to find drivers turning to their phones while on the road – and not just at the traffic lights.”

The survey also looked into what platforms drivers are most likely to use while driving. Over half (58%) said Facebook, which often involves reading status updates or scrolling through quick news snippets. A total of 12% said Snapchat, where you watch short videos, possibly involving cats, and 10% said Twitter, which involves reading a range of tweets, some which can make you laugh, some of which can make you angry.

Eight percent favored Instagram, another 8% watch longer videos on YouTube and 4% exchange messages on WhatsApp while driving.

The survey showed that a good percentage of drivers – 48% – said drivers who use social media should face the same penalties as drunk drivers. However, a disappointing 21% of the respondents said they didn’t think social media affected their own driving capabilities. So their line of logic is that it’s “other people” causing the problem, not them.

Instead of blaming others, more drivers have to realize that distracted driving is dangerous driving.

The proof is in the numbers. According to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety:

  • More than 39,000 crashes were distracted driving-related from 2016-2020, contributing to one in nine crashes in Minnesota.

  • In 2020, distracted driving contributed to 2,612 injuries and 29 deaths.

  • Distracted driving contributes to 11% of crashes in Minnesota.

It’s time that drivers take a refresher course about Minnesota’s “hands-free” law: It’s illegal for drivers to read, send texts and emails, and access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. That includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign.

Other things to know about the law:

  • The first ticket is more than $120, which includes the fine plus court fees.

  • The second and later tickets are more than $300, which includes the fine plus court fees.

  • Potential for increased insurance rates.

  • If you injure or kill someone under the hands-free law, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

Visit Hands.FreeMN.org for more information.