Pay attention to this. Don’t brush this advice off. It could save you a lot of headaches or heartaches down the road.

Don’t be a distracted driver.

With decreased pandemic restrictions and increased vaccinations, more people are hitting the road and traveling to see friends and relatives that they haven’t connected with in a while.

Remember to keep your eyes on the road and not on a cell phone, the radio, food, your passengers or the many other distractions that can, in an instant, lead to a crash.

This month is Distracted Driving Awareness Month – a good time to brush up on your safe driving skills.

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This isn’t a topic to take lightly. Lives are on the line. According to 2019 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people in the U.S. – an average of nine deaths per day. That number was up 10% from the year before (2,839 deaths in 2018).

In Minnesota alone, there were 29 fatal crashes involving a distracted driver, resulting in 29 fatalities in 2019.

“Distracted driving remains a growing traffic safety problem nationwide,” said Meredith Mitts, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Any distraction, whether it be texting or talking to a passenger, could be enough to cause a crash. AAA strongly urges drivers to focus on what’s most important, that’s the road in front of them.”

The AAA identifies these top three risky driver distractions:

  • Mobile phone use.

  • In-vehicle technology.

  • Passengers in the vehicle.

Unfortunately, drivers who use their cellphones behind the wheel have chosen to ignore the message that it’s extremely dangerous. In 2019, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a nationwide survey which found:

Most drivers (96 percent) believe typing or reading on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately, some of them do it anyway. A total of 39% admitted to reading and 29% admit to typing on a smartphone at least once while behind the wheel within the past month.

The AAA points out that checking your phone at the stoplight can be risky too. AAA research found that drivers can experience a “hangover effect” where the mind stays distracted for up to 27 seconds after using smartphones or voice-to-text vehicle infotainment systems to send text messages, make phone calls or update social media.

In other words, once that light turns green, your mind may still be focused on your phone and not on the road, according to the AAA.

“The bottom line is, if your mind is not focused on driving, you’re unable to properly react to what’s happening on the road in front of you. That puts other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians at risk,” Mitts said.

AAA offers these tips to avoid distracted driving:

  • Put it away. Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation.

  • Know where you're going. If using a navigation system, program the destination before driving.

  • Pull over. If you must call or text while on the road, pull off the road safely and stop first.

  • Ask passengers for help. If riding with someone, seek their help to navigate, make a call or send a message.

  • Be a good passenger. Speak out if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.

  • Don't be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.

  • Activate Do Not Disturb. Setting up this feature on an iPhone or Android device will prevent calls from coming in while you're driving.

So the next time you’re out and about, whether it’s just a quick trip to the grocery store or a two-hour trip to the Cities, stay focused, keep your eyes on the road and expect the unexpected.