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Distracted drivers are traffic dangers

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Everyone knows about the dangers of drunk driving and is encouraged to have a plan in place to get home safely. Many may not realize, however, the things they do every day in their car, like eating, visiting with passengers, or talking on their cell phones, also pose a danger.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

According to Luis Harris, 21st Space Wing safety office, distracted driving is doing any activity that would divert your attention from the main task of driving. It includes texting, using a cell phone or smart phone, eating, drinking, talking to a passenger, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video and adjusting a radio or CD player.

"Out of that list, texting is the most menacing because it requires so much of your visual, manual, and cognitive attention," Harris said.

Distracted driving is a significant factor in many vehicle crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2,221 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, and an additional 387,000 people were injured.

Harris said the National Safety Council estimates that at least 24 percent of crashes in 2010 involved drivers using cell phones.

Cell phones have become a social norm, Harris said, but they are dangerous because they take our eyes, hands and minds off the road. "Even with hands free devices, you're losing your concentration on driving because you're involved in the conversation," he said.

According to Harris, the initiative for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month started in Colorado. In November 2008, a 9-year-old girl from Fort Collins, Colo., was struck and killed by a distracted driver. Former Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey introduced the resolution for the observance to the U.S. House of Representatives and it passed in 2010.

In Colorado, texting while driving is a stoppable offense, Harris said, meaning you can be pulled over and ticketed. It is also illegal for any person under the age of 18 to use a cell phone in any manner while driving.

Even though states have their own rules, all military members and Department of Defense civilians have certain rules they must follow.

On Peterson Air Force Base, texting and driving is prohibited. Talking is only allowed with a hands-free device.

Individuals caught not using a hands-free device will be cited with a DD Form 1408, Armed Forces Traffic Ticket. Additionally, violators may face a 14-day suspension of their base driving privileges depending on the individual's traffic record and the facts and circumstances pertaining to the actual offense.

Harris also referenced Air Force Instruction 91-207. The AFI applies to Air Force personnel at all times, and DOD civilians on duty. The AFI says these people are prohibited from texting on or off a DOD installation. The use of cell phones without hands free devices while driving is strongly discouraged.

Accidents caused by distracted driving are preventable. "Seconds away from the road can be the difference between life and death," Harris said.

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