Dakota County Attorney, Senators Want 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.

 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.

Jim Christian February 07, 2013 at 04:49 PM
The article failed to describe what the proposed change is but I'm assuming the change is making it a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Increasing and raising the stakes of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for our actions makes good sense.
Michele Olson February 07, 2013 at 06:15 PM
I'm not sure people think of the stakes when they're driving, so I'm not sure it's an effective move. But thinking about how careless driving can affect your life, your loved ones' lives, other people's lives, sure doesn't seem to be doing the trick. I'm talking about YOU, tailgaters!
Patrick Hall February 07, 2013 at 11:10 PM
I am always sad when drivers whose careless actions causes a death or great bodily harm. Persons convicted of a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota need help and not just a sentence to serve so much time and or a fine. What we need is real reform. How about offering up a bill that treats the cause rather than the effect. We must get to the real issues and not simply the symptoms.


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