Pandemic or not, Shelby Meyer realizes Minnesotans want something to do in the wintertime besides staying inside.
After several months without planning any activities, the Faribault Parks and Rec Department has come up with a new event, the Faribault Frostival. The event presents an opportunity for families and friends to gather outdoors for winter activities from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at North Alexander Park. Registration is available online at bit.ly/39Hb9zz until Thursday.
“We have been obviously on a standstill for a while, so once we were able to get a green light here, all of us at the Community Center were excited to get an activity going,” said Meyer, Faribault Parks and Recreation program supervisor . “We thought, ‘If we can’t do something indoors, why not outdoors?’”
Parks and Rec will offer a wide variety of winter recreational activities at the Frostival, including family competitions like different levels of scavenger hunts and a shot put contest with colored ice globes. There will be snowball slingshots, a bucket brigade contest, photo opportunities, and stations for making snow paintings and bird feeders.
The Faribault Fire Department has cleared out an area on the Cannon River for winter ice golf, and Matthies Percherons will offer horse drawn carriage rides included with the registration fee.
Molly Olson, naturalist/marketing coordinator for River Bend Nature Center, said her team will bring a nature artifact table to the Frostival so attendees can learn about plants and animals. RBNC will also provide snow shoes, in preschool through adult sizes, and guests can test them out by walking around a loop.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Olson said of the Faribault Frostival. “It’s a great way to get people outside and enjoying the winter weather because not everyone knows what they can do in the winter outside … We’re really excited to be a part of it, and we hope it goes well and it will continue.”
COVID-19 health and safety guidelines created barriers for Parks and Rec events off and on throughout 2020. The first shutdown last spring presented uncertainty around the annual Pet Parade, which the department changed to a vehicle parade in August. Parks and Rec hosted small programs, like volleyball, and an online neon night, but Meyer said it’s been a while since the department could host a large group event. She doesn’t expect registration to exceed the maximum capacity allowed, which is 250 attendees.
Determined to host the event no matter the weather, Meyer said Park and Rec has prepared for every situation.
“If somehow the snow is all gone, if there’s a blizzard, we’re going to host it no matter what,” Meyer said. “We’ll have fire barrels there and hot cocoa, so if it does get chilly, we’ll be able to help with that.”
On Monday afternoon, the forecast for Saturday was a high of 16 and a 50% chance of snow.
Park and Rec originally planned the Frostival as something to do during the pandemic, but Meyer said the more the team talked about it, the more excitement it drew.
“Everyone wants to be involved, so hopefully it goes well and it could become an annual thing,” Meyer said. “There’s not a whole lot to do in winter, so why not see where it takes us?”
With the first full year of Minnesota’s hands-free driving law is now in the books, getting drivers to put their phones down continues to be an issue, according to newly compiled statistics from Minnesota’s Judicial Branch.
Across the state, just under 20,000 citations were issued for violating the law in 2020. In Rice County, some 258 citations were issued, while in Steele County the total number of citations was 106.
Owatonna Police Sgt. Tracy Duchene said he’s seen a small decrease in violations, but was quick to add that given the risks, 106 citations in Steele County alone is still way too many.
“There’s still way too many people that are talking on their phone,” he said.
Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn said that from what he’s seen, the number of people using their phones while driving has not decreased significantly. In fact, Dunn said he’s pulled over no fewer than four motorists himself over the last week for violating the law.
Statewide, 9,523 citations were issued from Aug. 1, 2019, when the law first went into effect, until the end of 2019. By comparison, 8,687 citations were issued from Aug. 1, 2020 to the end of last year, a 9% drop.
However, extra enforcement campaigns during 2020 led to a wave of citations. August, which began with an extra enforcement campaign centered around the hands-free law, saw more citations under the law than any other month in 2019 or 2020.
The number of deaths on Minnesota roadways linked to distracted driving increased from 27 in 2019 to 30 in 2020. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, nearly 80% of all auto accidents involve distracted driving, speeding, not using seat belts or impaired driving. Though the number of deaths linked to distracted driving is lower than those linked to impaired driving, speeding or not using a seat belt, drivers who use a cellphone are four to five times more likely to be in an injury crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Texting while driving, which has been illegal under state law for years, is even more dangerous. According to a study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who text and drive are 23 times more likely to crash.
Expanding the law to “Hands Free’’ made it much easier to enforce, enabling far more citations. While citations for texting while driving had been on the rise for years, the last full year of the law, 2018, saw less than 10,000 tickets written.
Minnesota joined 18 other states as well as the District of Columbia when it switched to “hands free.” Under the law, Motorists are required to pay a base fine of $75 for the first violation and $275 for a second violation, plus additional fees. Under the law, motorists are only allowed to use their cellphones while driving if they do so in voice activated or hands-free mode, regardless of whether they are using the phone for work or personal use. Smart watches are considered equivalent to a cellphone under the new law.
Drivers can still use their GPS devices while driving, but only in one-touch or voice activated mode — scrolling and typing in an address are both prohibited. Those under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to use their phones while driving at all.
Among older people, talking on the phone is quite common, with some motorists still claiming to be unaware of the law. Younger generations are more likely to put their lives in even greater danger by texting and driving.
Rice County Sheriff’s Sgt. Justin Hunt said that from what he’s seen, the problem may even be getting worse. When the law was first implemented, Hunt said that many people were extra cautious about driving hands free — but now, some seem to be slipping back into old habits.
“I would say that if anything, people are starting to do it more,” he said.
Dunn said that many motorists think they can hide their phone use by making the dangerous decision to put the phone in their lap. However, he said that law enforcement can usually tell when motorists are looking at their lap rather than the road.
“You watch them drive, and they’re looking straight down, so even if they aren’t using the phone you can look at (ticketing) them for inattentive driving,” Dunn said. “But a majority of the time we know what they’re doing when they’re looking down.”
As a much better alternative, motorists can purchase a simple and inexpensive dashboard mounted phone holder and use their phone in hands-free mode. However, public safety advocates like the Rice County Safe Roads Coalition’s Kathy Cooper say the best approach is to just put the phone aside altogether while driving.
To help, Cooper encouraged motorists to install an app on their phone that will stop them from receiving notifications while they’re driving. Even for motorists trying to do their best, Cooper said that a ringing phone can immediately become a distraction.
Actually getting motorists to follow that advice can be tricky. Cooper said that from time to time, even her own family will call her while they’re driving, prompting a stern rebuke and instruction to call her back when they’re off the road.
“People just have to pay attention and put the phone down,” she said. “It can really be life or death.”