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Stayin' Alive

Some laws are changing to ensure protection for young, inexperienced drivers.

And while they are directed toward teens, they could protect adults as well if followed.

Among those laws are cell phone use and seat belt use.

Minnesota State Trooper Andy Schmidt said, "It is perhaps a sad fact but still a fact that statistics show 15-to-19 year olds have a higher rate of non-use of seat belts than any other age group.

"Statistics also show that they are more likely to sustain serious or fatal injuries in a crash when not using seat belts."

For example, on June 13 there was a crash in the Detroit Lakes district that involved two vehicles. One vehicle had three teenagers in it, all without their seat belts. The other had a 47-year-old woman in it with her seat belt being used.

The three teenagers without seat belts suffered "incapacitating" injuries, according to the state incident file. The woman sustained no injury.

While some may think it's just teenagers driving carelessly, that wasn't so in this case.

The car with teenagers was waiting at a stop sign to make a left turn and was reared-ended.

"If you are not belted, and your vehicle takes a hit, you can become a flying object and receive injuries," Schmidt said. "During the rebound action we can become a flying object and the landing can be very serious or even fatal."

While officers can't pull someone over for not using their seat belt, not using one is a "secondary offense" in Minnesota, meaning they can give tickets if they pull someone over for another violation.

"Our seat belt law is not for troopers to have another reason to write a ticket," Schmidt said. "It is to help all of us to use our seat belts because the facts show we are safer riding in vehicles when using seat belts.

"Facts also show that we are at a greater risk of sustaining severe or fatal injuries, and higher medical costs, if not seat-belted."

Also effective as of the start of this year, teens with learner's permits or on the first year of their driver's license are not allowed to talk on handheld cell phones.

Capt. Bruce Hentges, Minnesota State Patrol, said it's not uncommon to see people of all ages sitting at a green light, talking on their cell phone. Or some people will have one hand on the wheel and one hand on the phone, causing the person to make a wide turn.

"They're not using 100 percent of their capabilities," he said.

Unlike the seat belt law, officers can pull over teens that look young and are on a cell phone. The phones should only be used for emergencies, Hentges said.

Teens with driver's permits or that have had their driver's licenses only 12 months can get a warning or a ticket for cell phone use in vehicles.

Another driving law aimed at teens is called Not a Drop, where people under 21 will have their licenses taken away if they are pulled over with any alcohol in them.

"We try to keep them alive, really," Hentges said.