Widow wants tougher penalties for distracted drivers

When pedestrians and bicyclists are killed by drivers, their killers often get a slap on the wrist. One widow has had enough.

“If you kill someone with your car, it should be a felony,” Amy Miller Hawkinson tells the Fargo Forum.

Her husband, a 50-year-old father of three, was killed on his bicycle in Grandin, N.D., by a person who was texting. The killer was given a six month sentence.

Lisa Knudson of Portland, N.D., was killed by a driver who thought it was a good time to take a selfie. He got three months in jail.

There are tough sentences for these sorts of crimes, but prosecutors often plead the cases down to nuisances.

Hawkinson is pushing North Dakota to elevate the baseline offenses to that similar to drunk driving.

She remembers a recent training run on busy 40th Avenue South in Fargo, when she saw a driver go by, looking down at their phone. She watched as the driver went off the road, over a curb and sidewalk—where school kids often walk—and narrowly miss a tree.

She fears it’ll be a child next who’ll be hit by a phone-obsessed driver.

“What is it going to take for people to say it’s not worth it, don’t touch it?” she said.

Amy thinks the next generation of kids will be the ones to turn the tide, the ones who won’t be afraid to call out friends and parents who are texting while driving.

“They’re going to see all of the tragedies, people they know,” she said. “I think they’re going to be the change.”

Anne Peek of Bloomington, writing in today’s Star Tribune letters, has the roll call of evidence they’re not.

• A friend driving home from grocery shopping was seriously injured when a car ran a red light, totaling her car and landing her in the hospital.

• Another friend was rear-ended on her way to work while stopped at a red light.

• My oldest child’s partner was rear-ended on the way home from a trip to her bank while stopped for a red light.

• The same day my husband was very nearly hit head-on by a driver running a red light.

• My other adult child was rear-ended while stopped in heavy traffic on 35W. (The state trooper apologized for taking so long to show up at the scene, explaining that he alone had been called to 15 accidents so far that day!)

A survey released in Washington County last week showed of all the things that can make people feel less safe, distracted drivers are at the top of the list.