The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 23, 2014

Our View: Put down the phone and drive

Why it matters: Distracted driving and texting cause injury and death at alarming rates

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The statistics on death and injury from distracted driving and texting should alarm parents, students and all of us who use the roads. The statistics are scary and tragic.

Yet, in our busy lives, we all continue to take risks, picking up the phone to see who’s calling or putting on makeup, grabbing our favorite music or taking a bite of a burger. All seemingly innocent things to do while we’re getting to where we’re going.

But we could be going to the grave or sending others there.

A full 25 percent of crashes in Minnesota over a five year period were caused by distracted driving, some 86,000 total crashes, according to state reports. Last year distracted driving contributed to 68 fatalities, 8,000 injuries and nearly 18,000 crashes.

Distracted driving contributed to fatal accidents at a rate similar to drunken driving. For injury crashes, distracted driving was the cause four times more often than drunken driving.

And yet, we text. We continue to text.

A recent crackdown by 400 law enforcement agencies recently cited some 500 drivers for texting. But officers also saw people shaving, applying makeup and working on computers. It’s been illegal to text while in traffic or at a stop sign in Minnesota since 2009.

Authorities note distracted driving has always been a problem, but point out that the distractions have grown with the expansion of technology like smartphones and tablets.

These are wonderful devices for keeping up with the fast-paced world and fast-paced family life, but we have to pause for a moment and consider the serious risk of using these devices while driving.

Matt Logan of Byron must now recount that risk every day. His daughter Deej was killed on the first day of her senior year after looking away to text a message to her friend. She was killed as her car slammed into the back of a school bus.

Matt Logan now gives talks at churches and schools about the dangers of texting and driving. His tragic circumstances, he hopes, will help the message sink in to young and old alike.

Paying attention to driving and making sure the phone and other distractions are left alone may be an inconvenience for us and not a costly proposition. But if we don’t heed the safety rules, it could be very costly.