Driving while distracted is the leading cause of crashes in Minnesota and the Mankato area, said Tom Coulter, Blue Earth County deputy. He's either seen or heard about people who have crashed while texting, eating, talking to their kids in the back seat and changing the disc in their compact disc players.
The worst case of distracted driving he has dealt with is someone who was using a laptop and jotting down notes while on the road. That man didn't crash, but he did get a lecture after Coulter found him at his office. He told Coulter he learned his lesson.
"The thing is the Department of Transportation drivers are seeing these violations all the time," Coulter said. "They keep telling us, 'Come ride along with us and you'll see.' So that's exactly what we're going to do."
Another aspect of Monday's event is a pledge Maple River students are being asked to sign that says they won't text and drive, said Annette Larson, the Toward Zero Deaths coordinator for the Department of Transportation's Mankato district. Toward Zero Deaths is a statewide effort to reduce the number of deadly crashes in Minnesota.
Seniors and juniors will be competing to get the most pledges from other students and adults. Larson said she is hoping the competition will help spread the word to future drivers as well as people with many years of driving experience.
Distracted driving kills, on average, eight people per day in the United States, said Mark Griffith, Emergency Medical Services director for south-central Minnesota. People ages 16-50 are most likely to be driving while distracted. Statistics show the reaction time of someone who sends texts while driving is the same as the reaction time of someone with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08, the legal limit for driving, he said.