There’s no escaping the distracted driver

A sweet moment after last weekend’s Minnesota Class A State Tournament semifinals was a sobering reminder that the carnage caused by distracted drivers in Minnesota can be found just about anywhere these days.

The Blooming Prairie football team — they don’t call them the Awesome Blossoms for nothing — had just been beaten 37-to-7 by BOLD (Bird Island-Olivia) when it called Jaxson Harberts, 12, to the U.S. Bank Stadium field to hold their trophy.

Harberts is a victim of distracted driving. In September, his mother — Rachel, 43, and sister, Emerson, 8 — died after the car that all three were riding in was rear-ended by a Hummer, driven by Tanner R. Kruckeberg, of Dodge Center, Minn. He told authorities he was putting his cellphone away at the time.

He had enough traffic violations to predict that sooner or later, he was bound to kill someone.

Rachel was a first-grade teacher in the Blooming Prairie district as well as the volleyball coach for the junior high school.

Jaxson was in the hospital with severe injuries until early November.

This is the part of distracted driving we don’t get to see very often: a 12-year-old learning to walk again after his mother and sister are killed.

In its investigation last night, KARE 11 asked if distracted drivers are “getting off easy.”

They are.

  • Al

    There is no circle of hell deep enough for people who think their insipid Facebook updates are more important than someone’s life.

  • Rob

    Sad to think anybody – especially a journalist – could wonder whether people who kill other people with their cars due to distracted driving, are “getting off too easy.”

    • It’s a fair question. Which is how most stories should start.

      • Rob

        It’s a question to which everybody already knows the answer. So it has zero usefulness, journalisticslly speaking.

        • Speaking only as an occasional journalist, that’s nonsense.

          • Rob

            You’re saying there’s still some doubt as to whether people who kill other people with their cars are getting off too easy? Cuz that’s the only way that it makes any sense for a jounalist – occcasional or otherwise – to ask this question.

          • Give me the statistics your research has revealed that show it’s undisputed and I’ll certainly look at them . Clearly you feel they are. I tend to agree with you. But to suggest that it’s settled and is unanimous ignores certain realities, like the fact the sentencing guidelines haven’t been changed and bills to toughen penalities have been watered down and then vetoed. So , you know, it’s obviously NOT unanimous and it’s not the journalists job to be a cheerleader for your view by ignoring that.

          • Rob

            If it walks like duck, looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

            Sentencing guidelines that haven’t changed, and the defeat of bills to toughen up penalties, aren’t evidence of much of anything – other than that some folks holding the reins of power have a “life is cheap” mindset.

          • Right, there’s nothing wrong with you having that personal belief, but it’s important to acknowledge that this is what you think more than what you know. Asking journalists to approach their stories in such a fashion is illogical.

        • jon

          There are a lot of very very very dumb people in the world.
          What is obvious to the rest of us is still fascinating/confusing to them.
          Heck I wouldn’t be surprised if 10% of the driving population doesn’t know what the laws are around texting and driving.

  • By now all of us have observed people on their phones instead of paying attention to their driving. Most times they play the odds and get away with it, which reinforces their bad behavior. About all we can do ourselves is to try to drive, bike, and walk safely, paying attention to what is happening around us. It is naive to assume that others are also doing so, and that means – fair or not – that it’s up to us to be the responsible adults when we travel, in hopes that we can avert a deadly crash.

    If you are going to drive, prepare absolutely everything while in the driveway; the seat and mirrors, the sound system, the GPS, the climate control, the seating and belting of passengers and placement of pets and cargo, clearing of the window glass, everything and anything that will distract from actual driving. If you have a passenger, assign the phone to them, and if not – ignore it no matter what for the duration of the trip. Drive in the right lane when possible, allowing at least three seconds between you and the car ahead (four or five if a motorcycle is ahead since they can stop more quickly), and check for traffic behind you frequently. Allowing extra space ahead allows you to better manage an emergency stop even if someone is following you too closely.

    If you are walking or biking, try to use dedicated trails when possible. Yes, you have a right to bike in the road or cross safely in a crosswalk, but never assume even if you are clearly visible and have the right of way that a distracted driver will notice you. A helmet mirror can help bikers. Pedestrians can hear approaching vehicles – if they are listening for them, so no earbuds while in the street – ever.

    Long ago, when I was learning to fly, I was told in no uncertain terms that my first job was always to fly the plane. That applies to driving as well as biking and walking. We can only control what we are doing – paying attention to what is around us. Let’s hope it is enough to make every trip a safe one.

  • Ben Chorn

    “Twenty-four-year-old Tanner Kruckeberg of Dodge Center has about 10 speeding violations on his record, including one from earlier this year when he was going 89 miles per hour.”

    “Kruckeberg also has multiple convictions for driving with a suspended license and one for “Use of Wireless Communications Device-Compose, Read or Send Electronic Message in Motion or Traffic.”

    Like drunk driving, the best way to prevent this is tougher sentences and increased enforcement. People will always think they’re the exception and that they’re safer than those who cause accidents.

    • I think tougher sentences for those who commit a crime would be well called for, but any notion that it would make others less inclined , I think, is pure folly at this point. It’s like speeding now. It’s too ingrained in the culture. Cops can stop people and prosecute and maybe save THOSE lives, but I doubt it’ll have any effect at all on others.

      • MikeB

        I’m curious why there are not more severe penalites for distracted driving, especially with many examples that otherwise would spur legislation. Is it the Big Phone lobby? Or do legislators think more laws are a political loser? No hard numbers but it seems most people see this as a serious issue.

        • My guess is because they don’t want to face those penalties themselves in the event they get caught.

          • One of the proposals in the last session, I think, was to make it a felony if involved in a crash that involved death OR serious injury.

            I don’t know if that ever got debated on the floor or not — probably not — but hanging more felonies on people — with all the accompanying sanctions — is something to think long and hard about.

            The hands-free bill seemed like a no-brainer, though

          • Right, I remember a few bill proposals in recent years, but they never seem to make it out of committee.

    • Matthew

      If the fine for speeding was $10,000 or something huge like that, I would absolutely always drive under the speed limit.

      It’d be nice if there was a “dumb GPS mode” for navigating with a smartphone, a mode where it wouldn’t show any indications about messages.

      • That option exists on many phones — Pixel 2, in my case. If the car is moving, the phone is not disturbed.

        It’s an option, though and can be turned off.

  • The Resistance

    Police are sometimes part of the problem. Just last night I was behind a St. Paul police officer who failed to signal his turn twice. It was just after sunset and I could see the glow of his squad car laptop in his front seat. He seemed completely oblivious to the traffic around him. If the people who are enforcing the laws are driving like that, there’s not much hope for improvement.

  • AL287

    This is a timely post when thousands of Minnesotans will be getting on the road to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

    My phone is never on in the car unless I have stopped at a station for gas,food or a rest area during a long trip. It’s turned off, texting is disabled and it is in the zip pocket on the front of my purse.

    Texting is the new drunk driving and we know the punishment for that is lax to the point of no importance.

    I have yet to understand the allure of texting. I want to hear a human voice on my phone, not the irritating noise of a message alert. In the time it takes to type a text you can hit speed dial and talk to me.

    Madness. Sheer madness.

    • QuietBlue

      And I don’t like being interrupted by a phone call unless it’s an emergency, so I prefer texting (but I don’t do either while driving). Besides, you can always turn off the message alert sounds.

  • L. Foonimin

    for non-fatal accidents distracted drivers should be put into stocks on the courthouse square for 10 days rather then jail …