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Accident waiting to happen?

Echo Press photo illustration by Lowell Anderson According to U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, about 20 to 30 percent of all drivers admit to texting, although for younger drivers, the rate is much higher - 50 percent or more. Texting while driving is a very serious public safety concern, said the senator, who is co-sponsoring a federal texting while driving ban.

A teenager, who just left school, decides he wants to go to a friend's house instead of going home.

A husband, who is on the road traveling, won't be home in time for supper.

A mom, who is supposed to pick up her child after soccer practice, gets waylaid by a train.

How do these three persons let others know where they are and that plans have changed?

Several years ago, they would have waited until they arrived at their destination or maybe, they would have used a payphone to contact their loved ones.

Most likely today, all three would have reached for their cell phones, while continuing to drive, and either made a phone call or sent a text message.

But no message is that important, according to U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is a co-sponsor of a federal texting while driving ban.

"No text message is so urgent that it's worth dying for," said Klobuchar in a recent news release. "Texting while driving is not safe. We need drivers to stay alert and keep their eyes on the road, both for their own safety and the safety of all of us."

Recently, Klobuchar, who spoke at the Distracted Drivers Summit in Washington, D.C., highlighted the devastating effects of texting while driving and called for a nationwide ban.

She is co-sponsoring the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act, otherwise known as ALERT Drivers Act. This would require states to pass laws that ban the writing, reading and sending of text or e-mail messages while operating a motor vehicle.

The legislation would give states two years to comply or otherwise risk losing 25 percent of federal highway funding.

"Not too long ago, most people viewed drunk driving as just a traffic offense, not really a crime. As a prosecutor, I joined with law enforcement officials and safe driving advocates to change the law to make our roads safer. We need to do the same for texting and distracted driving," said Klobuchar.

She added, "When the rubber meets the road, the Blackberry should be put away. No text message is worth dying for."

Klobuchar serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which will consider the measure before it goes to the full Senate.

Jason Peterson, a sergeant with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, said text messaging has become popular, and not just with teenagers; there are plenty of adults that do it, too.

Oftentimes, Peterson will see a vehicle weaving all over the road and think it's a drunk driver. However, the most common reason these days is because the person is on a cell phone - either talking or texting, he said.

"You can't text blind," he said. "You have to look down and away from the road, which isn't good."

Peterson noted that younger drivers, those who are 18 and younger, are not supposed to be using their cell phones while driving and can get ticketed for doing so.

All motorists can be cited for inattentive driving while using their cell phones if pulled over for weaving or driving erratically, noted Peterson. He added that there is a law in effect that deals with the use of wireless communication devices and messaging.

According to Minnesota State Statute 169.475, an electronic message means "a self-contained piece of digital communication that is designed or intended to be transmitted between physical devices. An electronic message includes, but is not limited to, e-mail, a text message, an instant message, a command or request to access a Web page, or other data that uses commonly recognized electronic communications protocol."

The statute adds that no one may operate a vehicle while using a wireless communication device to compose, read or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.

There are exceptions to the statute, such as if the wireless communication device is used in the reasonable belief that a person's life or safety is in immediate danger.