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Safety council, law enforcement encourage people to focus on the road ahead, rather than their phone

Law enforcement and officials at the North Dakota Safety Council and law enforcement are encouraging people to put down their phones and focus on the road ahead during Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Female driving car and using mobile phone, selective focus
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and officials at the North Dakota Safety Council and law enforcement are encouraging people to focus on the road ahead. (iStock photo)

Law enforcement and officials at the North Dakota Safety Council and law enforcement are encouraging people to put down their phones and focus on the road ahead during Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

A new law that was signed into law last week by Gov. Doug Burgum expands distracted driving beyond just sending a text while behind the wheel. Under House Bill 1430, introduced by House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, a driver could be cited and fined $100 for distracted driving if he or she commits a traffic offense or is involved in an accident while distracted. It was already illegal to text while driving in North Dakota.

As previously reported by Forum News Service, Mock said his bill recognizes there are other things that could distract drivers besides a cell phone. It passed the Senate in a 37-9 vote a week ago before landing on Burgum's desk.

To raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, the NDSC is joining the National Safety Council to observe April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Distractions not only include phone calls, texts and emails, but also GPS systems, computers, applying makeup, eating and updating social media.

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Terry Weaver, program coordinator for the NDSC, said cell phones can be a worse distraction than eating though because talking on the phone or sending a texting while driving can divide someone's attention for a greater amount of time than simply taking a quick bite of food.

"You can spend 30 minutes on a phone call while you're driving, so that's a long period of time," she said. "If you reach down and grab an apple and take a couple bites out it your eyes are still on the road. It is a distraction, but it doesn't occur as much or as frequently as telephones."

According to a recent press release, the NDSC estimates nearly 330,000 injuries occur each year from crashes caused while texting and driving. Weaver said these crashes are preventable.

"If you do everything you can to eliminate any distraction there is and focus on driving, you're going to be safer and the people in your vehicle are going to be safer and the people on the street ...are going to be safer if you just concentrate on driving," she said.

The NDSC states that approximately 53 percent of U.S. drivers believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device. However, they say that "research has found hands-free features, including voice to text, actually increase mental distraction causing drivers to miss seeing up to 50 percent of what's around them."

Dickinson Police Capt. David Wilkie said that while hands-free devices seem like a better idea than physically using a device, using them can still be distracting.

"It's the divided attention that gets you," he said. "It's not what the piece of equipment is that you're using, it's the fact that your attention is divided. Having your phone up to your ear or talking into a visor, it's basically the same thing because everybody who talks on the phone kind of does the same thing-you envision the person that you're talking to and hence you're dividing your attention."

The NDSC offers these simple tips to help keep drivers' eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and mind on driving:

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• Pull over to use your cell phone or let calls go to voicemail while driving.

• If you're going on a longer drive, schedule breaks to stop, park safely and respond to messages and emails.

• Know where you're going before you put the car in "drive." Put your destination into your GPS prior to getting on the road.

• Avoid the temptation of looking at your phone by placing it in the glove compartment or in your purse until you arrive safely at your destination.

• Do not call or text friends or family if you know they are driving.

DSU to host distracted driving campaign

The Dickinson State University Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program will sponsor the third annual texting and driving awareness campaign "Stop the texts. Stop the wrecks." during the second week of April to honor, DSU student-athlete Janae Moore, who was killed while texting and driving in 2013, as announced in a press release last month.

"Each year we are trying to engage and educate more people and offer more awareness material on the matter of texting and driving," said Jalyn Klauzer, TRHLP student assistant director in a press release. "Four years ago, the Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program lost Janae Moore, a wonderful scholar and friend, to texting and driving. It is a campaign that's very close to home for us."

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Students, staff, faculty and community members are invited to attend one of two keynote presentations on April 12. This year, the TRHLP has scheduled nationally renowned speaker and advocate, Jacy Good and her husband Steve Johnson, whose lives were forever changed as a result of a distracted driver.

Good was involved in a car crash in 2008 which was caused by a distracted driver that claimed the lives of both her parents and left her partially paralyzed. Good and her husband have worked to educate the country about the dangers of cellphone use behind the wheel.

Good and Johnson will speak to nearly 100 area high school students at 10 a.m. and will give an additional presentation at 4 p.m., both in Beck Auditorium on April 12. The public is invited to attend either presentation.

In addition to Wednesday's presentations, the TRHLP will also feature a Distracted Driving Simulator for DSU students on April 10, provided by Community Action Partnership. Students are encouraged to visit Weinbergen Gymnasium between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. to personally demonstrate the simulator.

The simulator will take students through a cone course in a small car that will simulate the response time of distracted driving, giving them a sense of the real reaction time that occurs during an accident.

"When we decided that texting and driving was an issue that we wanted to create awareness for three years ago, I'm not sure we really knew the extent to which we were going to be able to impact people," Klauzer said. "We've met people from all over the country that have complimented us on what we are doing, and countless people that said it changed the way they viewed texting and driving and the impact it can have in our lives. We are so excited to bring in Jacy to continue bringing impactful testimony to this cause and hopefully to make people think about the decisions they make when they are behind the wheel."

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