Editorial - Stop texting for a minute and read thisHere’s something to pay attention to: State traffic safety officials and law enforcement agencies are launching a distracted driving education campaign this week anchored by increased enforcement tomorrow, April 19.
Here's something to pay attention to: State traffic safety officials and law enforcement agencies are launching a distracted driving education campaign this week anchored by increased enforcement tomorrow, April 19.
The effort, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety, will include ramped-up patrols from nearly 400 city and county agencies, partnering with the State Patrol.
The campaign will include paid media as well as support from the Minnesota Safety Council and the Minnesota Teen Coalition to encourage high school students to push anti-distracted driving messages through social media channels and at schools.
As part of the campaign, the DPS issued a news release that underscored the seriousness of the problem. It noted that driver distraction is a contributing factor in one-quarter of all Minnesota vehicle crashes annually - resulting in 208 deaths and nearly 26,000 injuries in the last three years.
In Minnesota, it's illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts/e-mails, and access the Web on a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic - even at a stoplight/stop sign, or stuck in traffic.
It's also illegal for drivers younger than 18 to use a cell phone at any time.
Minnesota's "no texting" law was enacted in August 2008 and, according to the DPS, citations have increased each year: _2008 (five months) - 93; 2009 - 294; 2010 - 518; 2011 - 784.
A University of Utah study found that using a cell phone while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, delays a driver's reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of 0.08 percent. When texting, drivers take their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 out of every 6 seconds - equivalent to traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph without looking up.
Texting isn't the only problem. Other distractions include reaching for items, fiddling with radio/music/vehicle controls, eating/drinking, dealing with rowdy passengers, grooming and more. The DPS offers these tips to minimize distractions:
• Cell phones - turn them off, 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 (especially 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.
To raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving, the Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition will host its annual distracted driving event at Casey's Amusement Park on Monday, May 21 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Teens, aged 14 to 17, and their parents can register online at www.dcsafecommunities.com/teenparentevent.htm.
A final piece of advice on the topic comes from the winner of the coalition's Teen Distracted Driving Contest winner, Micaela Swenson at Discovery Middle School. She drew a poster with the message, "Pocket the phone or pocket the ticket."