INVESTIGATORS: Bullies behind the wheel - KMSP-TV

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INVESTIGATORS: Bullies behind the wheel

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Many motorists have encountered aggressive drivers, but one Minnesota woman who was seriously injured by one says she believes the state needs to crack down on punishments for behind-the-wheel bullies.

One moment, Beth Halfman was cruising along with rush hour traffic. The next, she was headed to the hospital on a stretcher because of another driver's outrageous behavior -- but the thing that makes her the most angry is the small punishment he faced after bringing her life to a screeching halt.

"The whole time he's just right, right on my tail," she recalled. "I was really uncomfortable with how close he was."

It's not a difficult driving scenario to imagine -- someone behind is in a big hurry, and the driver can either stay on course or do what Halfman did.

"I tried to merge over to let him pass on the left side," she explained.

Immediately after, she thought her life was over."

"I was absolutely terrified," she said.

The tailgating driver swung to the right, got in front of her and then slammed on the brakes at 65 mph.

"I was literally preparing myself to die," Halfman told Fox 9 News.

Halfman swerved to avoid a smash-up and then turned back to the left to miss the ditch, but she seriously over-corrected.

"My vehicle actually flew off the highway and rolled over four times," she said.

When she opened her eyes, she saw shattered glass. Her car was totaled and she was covered in cuts and bruises.

"I couldn't control the shaking," Halfman described. "I was like, 'What just happened?'"

Seven months later, Halfman -- a single mother -- is still in so much pain that she can't work full time, and her hospital bills are coming due.

"It's unbelievable," she said. "I'm up to my eyeballs in debt."

Meanwhile, the 30-year-old driver responsible for her injuries pled guilty to a reckless driving charge. His penalty was a $300 fine.

"I couldn't believe that this is what we call justice and the court system values my life at $300," Halfman objected.

Now, she wants the state of Minnesota to get tough on those who get aggressive on the roads by fighting for strict punishments and larger offenses on the law books.

"It's kind of a joke what we have right now," Edina Police Chief Jeff Long told the Fox 9 Investigators.

Long is among the members of law enforcement who believe bullies behind the wheel have little to fear in Minnesota.

"We need something that has teeth," Long concurred.

All too often, there's little punishment for those who are aggressive inside their vehicles. In one YouTube video, a silver minivan can be seen speeding, weaving, tailgating -- but it's one of hundreds uploaded by user Joe24Chevy, whose real name is Joe Benner.

"I have to protect myself," he explained of his GoPro camera setup.

If anything should ever happen to Benner on the roads, he will have a recording to bring to his defense. The cameras on his windshield and back window are on all the time, and they've captured hundreds of examples of dangerous driving, including:

- Footage of two cars racing through traffic

- Last-second dashes for an off-ramp

- Sudden braking, and sudden swerves

One driver, who was on the phone, even slowed down to match Benner's speed, he recalled.

"She actually flipped me off while talking on her cell phone," Benner said.

When he attempted to pass, the other car lurched toward his.

"To this day, I have no idea why," he said.

Currently, there are 11 states with specific laws against aggressive driving behavior -- speeding, tailgating, and weaving in and out of traffic. Minnesota, however, is not among them. That means when police try to cite an offender, they can only ticket for careless driving or reckless behavior, and both are misdemeanors even when the behavior kills or seriously injures someone.

"Between the courts and the police departments and the citizens, we don't' really have a cohesive plan on how to address this," Long said.

The city of Edina is known for cracking the whip on drivers who push the limits, and police there write over 20,000 tickets annually. Long estimates that 20 percent, or roughly 4,000 drivers, are ticketed over infractions that fall into the category of being aggressive.

"I see that behavior myself," affirmed Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom.

For the past seven years, Backstrom has been lobbying the Legislature for tougher laws -- especially when someone is seriously injured or killed.

"For the victims of these crimes, they'll feel there's a little more measure of justice," Backstrom predicted. "Right now, our system is not just, I think, in these cases."

Backstrom believes that if lawmakers will up the ante on aggressive driving by categorizing the crime as a gross misdemeanor, greater punishments -- including jail time or license suspension -- could provide a deterrent.

Halfman is urging state lawmakers to get on board. Following her near-death experience, she is now an advocate for highway safety and has written e-mails to every member of the state Senate, urging them to take aggressive action on aggressive drivers who endanger drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike.

"Anybody, anytime, anywhere," she warned.

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