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New laws restrict, protect

ST. PAUL -- If you are a health-care professional looking to make a profit, don't chase an ambulance.

If you are a musician, don't claim to be someone you are not.

If you are in the habit of sending text messages while driving, don't.

If you own a home, you must have carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms.

If you are a music lover, you may be able to buy tickets on line without fighting a ticket reseller's computer.

And if you are a teen, you need to know about new restrictions on your driving.

Today (Aug. 1) is when most Minnesota laws take effect, and those and others do kick in today.

Teen driving restrictions have drawn the most attention of the new laws.

"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in this country," said Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt. "The new graduated driver's license law will help new drivers gain valuable behind-the-wheel experience, while minimizing the distractions so often responsible for crashes involving teen drivers. Not only will this new law save the lives of teenagers in the state, they will protect every motorist on the road."

Many teenage-driver injuries are caused by driver inexperience, distractions, night-time driving, speeding and not using seat belts, the Public Safety Department reports.

Among the teenage restrictions are:

-- No night-time driving for teens in the first six months of holding a driver's license is allowed unless accompanied by a licensed driver at least 25 or driving to or from work or a school event for which the school does not provide transportation.

-- Also in the first six months of having a license, a driver may have only one passenger younger than 20 unless accompanied by a parent.

-- During the second six months of having a license, no more than three teenage passengers are permitted without a parent.

Passengers younger than 20 who are members of the immediate family are permitted under both time periods.

Public safety officials say that 16- and 17-year-olds are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash at night than during the day, a reason for the night restrictions.

There are 342,309 Minnesota drivers 16 and 17 years old. In the past three years, they were involved in 116 fatal crashes, resulting in 133 deaths and 525 serious injuries. Fifty of the dead were the drivers themselves.

Nathan Bowe of the Public Safety Department said the new laws provide a tool for their parents to keep them safe.

"It truly is not an enforcement piece," he said.

Forty-seven states have similar restrictions.

Drivers of all ages no longer can send text messages, compose e-mails or access the Web while driving, including if they are stopped in traffic. A violation could cost up to a $300 fine.

Navigation systems still are allowed.

"When you are composing or reading a text message, your focus is not on the road, and your hands definitely aren't on the wheel," said Cheri Marti, director of Public Safety Department Office of Traffic Safety. "Driving is a multitasking activity in itself that requires complete attention."

A 2006 law forbids teen drivers with provisional driver's licenses from using mobile telephones.

"Before you drive, put your phone out of reach so you avoid the urge to go for it," Marti said. "If you have passengers, use them as the designated texters and have them handle your calls and texts."

Laws going into effect also include one that requires all homes to have carbon monoxide detectors within 10 feet of each bedroom, a new law that may affect more Minnesotans than any other.

"CO alarms need to be placed where the gas is easily detectable," Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Bob Dahm said. "Avoid dead air pockets, corners of the ceiling, and spots too near a wall or within a yard of an air vent."

Carbon monoxide is a deadly, odorless gas that can be produced by furnaces.

Unlike other laws taking effect today, the CO detector measure passed in 2006. Last year, it required new construction to include the detectors. Next year, apartment house owners will be required to install the units.

Legislation also includes several provisions to help ease a mortgage foreclosure problem by helping counselors become involved early and to make sure a renter knows if the owner of his home is in arrears.

"The foreclosure crisis has hit every part of the state," Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said. "Often the innocent bystanders are renters, so we took steps to aid them. Also, by making it easier for abandoned homes to be turned back to the lender, we are helping to ensure safer communities by filling vacant homes that invite trouble."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.