The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 25, 2014

Driving and texting don't mix

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Thumbs down to the teens who are driving and texting.

The new Minnesota Student Survey results reveal a disturbing trend of young people being distracted drivers. More than half of 11th-grade girls in Blue Earth County say they read text messages while driving. The number of boys doing the same thing was only slightly lower. In Nicollet County the genders were switched with 56 percent of 11th-grade boys reading texts while driving and about 43 percent of the same age girls.

As state troopers and other emergency responders can attest, the combination of young, experienced drivers and distractions is truly dangerous and too often deadly. The average text takes 4.6 seconds, and that's valuable attention being taken off the road if the person is driving, said Sgt. Jacalyn Sticha of the State Patrol. That's beyond a football filed in distance at highway speed, she said.

Texting and driving don't mix. And teen drivers who do both are putting themselves and everyone else on the road at risk. Parents need to make it clear that driving is a privilege that can be revoked if texting occurs during vehicle operation.

Propane prices not frozen

Thumbs down to the cold weather, not just for making us miserable, but for bringing financial hardship to a lot of rural residents.

Because of heavy propane use last fall by farmers drying corn and because of the early bitter cold that hasn't relented, propane prices have soared from about $1.50 a gallon last fall to $5 this week. For people buying hundreds of gallons at a time for home heating, the sticker shock is severe.

Problems could persist, or even worsen, next year because the pipeline that brings 40 percent of the state's propane is being converted to a different use. State officials and propane wholesalers need to ensure they prepare properly to replace that lost propane and keep inventories adequate.

Freezing the invaders

Thumbs up to the cold weather, at least on this point: Such temperatures are Minnesota's best defense against such invasive species as the emerald ash borer.

The polar vortex deep freeze a few weeks ago was estimated to have killed about 80 percent of the ash borers. One can reasonably presume that the subsequent cold snaps have only increased the mortality rate.

This winter seems harsh largely because recent winters have been generally milder in temperature than those of 20 or more years ago. These cold spells were once routine parts of Minnesota winters; that they've become rare has opened the door to some destructive species.

Require kill switches

Thumbs up to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s efforts to pass legislation that would require cell phone companies to include “kill switch” technology in mobile devices.

If someone's phone is stolen or lost, the owner could have the cell phone company "kill" the phone — rendering it useless and worthless to anyone else.

The theft of cell phones and other mobile devices has become epidemic. Devices aren't just swiped from cars or as they lay unattended, but criminals are increasingly assaulting people or breaking into occupied homes to steal the devices, which resell easily and for good money. Klobuchar said the thefts are costing consumers more than $30 billion a year.

The cell phone industry is opposed, saying the kill switches could be turned around on owners and used by hackers. Their argument is laughable. Smartphones already have a variety of web and other services that could be hacked.

The San Francisco district attorney, who supports kill switches, thinks he knows why the cell companies really oppose them: The switches would cut into their revenue from selling replacement phones because no one would steal them anymore, and it would affect their sales of cell phone insurance.