The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 14, 2014

Pay attention! Distraction a problem

Why it matters: More drivers are texting, notching up the number of distractions of motorists on roadways. Safety officials are spreading the word about the dangers of distracted driving and handing out citations.

A few years ago safety experts focused heavily on the dangers of people talking on cellphones while driving. Some states passed laws prohibiting the use of hand-held phones in cars as a result.

Today much attention is on motorists typing on tiny hand-held screens as they move on down the road. Texting is now a common cause of distracted driving.

Who would’ve guessed we’d devolve to this? Pretty soon people are going to be stopped for watching the last season of “Breaking Bad” on their phones while driving from Mankato to Duluth or for working on their taxes on laptops while steering with their knees to avoid potholes. (And yes, local law enforcement have made stops of people typing on laptops.)

By the way, all of the above examples are illegal in Minnesota. Drivers are not allowed to read, text or send emails or access the Web on mobile devices while in traffic, even when stopped at a red light. And drivers younger than 18 aren’t even allowed to use cellphones.

Of course all behaviors that take a driver’s attention off the road are a concern. Law enforcement is rightfully concerned about all distractions, including an uptick in texting. And every driver, pedestrian, bicyclist and motorcyclist using public roadways should be just as concerned. The South Central Toward Zero Deaths campaign cites that looking at phones while texting takes as much time as it takes to travel the length of a football field at 55 mph.

Getting teen drivers to learn the fundamentals of good driving is hard enough as it is. It’s quite a leap to think of kids who can’t remember to take a week-old banana out of their backpacks as operators of 3,000-pound motorized chunks of metal traveling at 65 mph. That’s why the state’s safety officials are being smart about how to spread the word about distracted driving. They are giving some teens hands-on experiences that plant information into their developing brains. Last week Maple River High School students drove golf carts through a course without texting and then while texting. As orange course cones went flying, it was clear that texting and driving don’t mix.

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