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New 'texting' ads bring home a powerful message

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opinion Alexandria, 56308
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The idea of a fatal crash victim texting from a body bag isn't funny - but it does deliver a powerful lesson as to just how dangerous it is to text while you're driving.

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The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) began airing TV spots this week containing those images in advance of a statewide distracted driving enforcement effort.

The new TV ads show the "dead" crash victims texting while enclosed in body bags. An attendant in the morgue explains to the victims - a busy mom and a male teen with a crush - that texting behind the wheel caused their deadly crashes.

Anything that can get drivers to think twice about engaging in other activities besides keeping their eyes on the road is worth it.

Many drivers seemingly don't realize it, but in Minnesota, it is illegal to read, compose or send texts/e-mails, or to access the Web on a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic, such as at a stoplight or stuck in traffic.

It is also illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone at any time.

You can check out the spots online by going to www.youtube.com and searching for "Mom Body Bag" and "Teen Body Bag." Although they're just 30 seconds long, they deliver a chilling message of how permanent a mistake texting-while-driving can be.

"These spots magnify that texting while driving is illegal for a reason - it is particularly dangerous and may have deadly consequences," says Cheri Marti, DPS Office of Traffic Safety director. "Texting and driving is its own universe of risk. No matter how routine driving may seem, the driving environment changes constantly - and can change in an instant - and drivers must be focused to best react to avoid a crash."

The DPS reports that driver distraction is a leading crash factor in Minnesota, accounting for around 20 percent of all crashes annually, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 injuries. These numbers are vastly underreported, according to the DPS, due to officers' challenges of determining "distraction" as a contributing crash factor.

During the April 21 distracted driving enforcement, motorists will be stopped for behavior that would endanger the motoring public.

And it's not just limited to texting. Other distractions include reaching for items, fiddling with radio/music/vehicle controls, eating/drinking, dealing with rowdy passengers, grooming and more.

DPS offers these tips to minimize distractions:

• Cell phones - turn off cell phones, or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial/answer or read or send a text. If a passenger is present, ask them to handle calls/texts.

• Music and other controls - pre-program favorite radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and AC/heat before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.

• Navigation - designate a passenger to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance, and pull over to study a map or program the GPS.

• Eating and drinking - try to avoid food/beverage, at least messy foods, and have drinks secured.

• Children - teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle; do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.

• Passengers should speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior.

• If making/receiving a call to/from someone driving, ask them to call back when they are not driving.

People shouldn't just brush off these tips as fluffy safety tips for "someone else." The next time you or a loved one is behind the wheel, remember the body bags - and put down the phone.

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