After reading the recent September 5th Star Tribune article, “Minnesotans are ‘driving like crazy,’ and it’s killing people,” all I could do was nod in agreement. Since the pandemic, motorists on Minnesota’s roadways have been driving like we’re on a drag strip or in a Formula 1 race. Or a video game: amazingly, you see people behind the wheel who are totally distracted — on their phones, messing with their stereos, anything other than paying attention to the road.
I’ve seen instances of this driving on my own drive to and from work, and I’ve seen them come across my desk as an attorney. The results are catastrophic in more ways than one.
The saying “speed kills” is not just an old adage, it is reality. Coupling that with driver distraction, it is a recipe for chaos and catastrophe on the roadways which is playing out in real time. Speeding and driver inattention are two of the top four leading causes of fatal crashes in Minnesota. According to the Office of Traffic Safety, there were 44 fatal crashes in August 2022, compared with 50 the year before. The decrease in fatalities is slight but promising, and perhaps the desired effect of the Minnesota State Patrol’s recent focus targeting unsafe driving.
Serious as they are, criminal penalties like jail time, fines, or loss of drivers’ license are only a part of the equation to consider.
If you end up hurting or killing someone, you may also face massive financial consequences for causing a harm or death. Victims of wrongful harm caused by dangerous and distracted driving have a right to seek financial compensation for those harms. Settlements and judgments in a catastrophic injury or wrongful death case can easily climb into seven figures.
That easily outstrips most peoples’ insurance coverage and financial wherewithal, forcing bankruptcy. Those are all the consequences facing a driver and for their conduct in bringing about a recent fatal crash in Minnesota.
“And my God, if there’s ever a time that paying attention is a matter of life and death, it’s this one. Whatever we think of what happened that day, paying attention matters.”
That’s a quote from the prosecuting attorney at the sentencing hearing for the semi truck driver who slammed into the back of a motorist on Interstate 94 in June of 2019. The collision led to the death of a 32-year-old husband and father of two who was in stop-and-go traffic during his morning commute to work in Woodbury.
This man’s death was the tragically predictable result of inattention and indifference. That includes the truck driver who was going too fast and not paying attention in rush hour traffic, and the trucking company and broker who set an impossible schedule, one where he couldn’t make the delivery on time legally, but with the expectation he would do it anyway. As a result, before the crash the truck driver was “running very late” and attempting in vain to make a delivery on time.
It’s better to run late, either in arriving or returning a text message, than run the risk of winding up in criminal and civil court.
If remorse and grief aren’t enough, financial ruin might come next. There’s no good reason to speed or take your attention off the road, and there are millions of reasons not to. Simply put, paying attention matters. We can all help to solve this problem of needless death on Minnesota’s roadways. If you do your part to protect yourself, your loved ones, and others, there is a much better chance that everyone will get home safely and avoid the lifelong consequences of a preventable accident.