They would be wrong

Before the national crackdown on drinking and driving, it was widely believed that having “one for the road” was not a bad thing.

The American public erroneously thought that it was OK to have a few rounds with the guys (or gals) at the bar after work and hop in their cars to go home.

Thousands of deaths and paralyzing injuries later, lawmakers, the courts and law enforcement officials launched public awareness campaigns against this unhealthy practice.

These largely successful campaigns continue both locally and nationally.

Today, there is a new traffic safety threat – distracted driving.

And again, way too many U.S. motorists believe it’s OK to send a quick text or check out a Snapchat photo while driving.

And again, they would be wrong – dead wrong.

Michigan State Police officials report that more than 3,000 people were killed nationwide in distracted-affected crashes in 2012.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, including texting, using a cellphone, eating or drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, using a navigational system, watching a video or adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player.

“Distracted driving is a known serious problem; however, drivers are still partaking in this dangerous activity and putting their lives and others at risk,” said Community Service Trooper Geno Basanese of the Iron Mountain Post. “Paying attention to the road and your surroundings can make the difference in preventing a crash and arriving home safely.”

There are three types of distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. Visual involves taking your eyes off the road, manual consists of taking your hands off the wheel and cognitive involves taking your mind off what you’re doing, Basanese said.

Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it requires the visual, manual and cognitive attention of the driver.

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which at 55 mph is equivalent to driving the length of a football field, he said.

Although many activities are distractions while driving, significant public and legislative attention has been focused on talking and texting on cell phones.

In 2012, a Wisconsin state law went into effect that prohibits drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license, which includes many teenagers, from “using a cellular or other wireless telephone except to report an emergency” while driving. A previously enacted law made texting while driving illegal for all motorists.

In a national Pew Research study, 40 percent of American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.

This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted, said David Pabst, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety

Congress has designated April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a good time to review our own driving habits.

“Despite laws to prevent distracted driving, people frequently talk and text on cell phones while behind the wheel. They eat a meal. They rummage for things on the seats, floor, dashboard or compartments. They even stare intently in the rearview mirror to comb their hair or apply make-up. Their attention is focused everywhere except where it should be, which is on the road,” Pabst said. “Because they’re not paying attention to traffic conditions and road hazards, distracted drivers risk causing a crash or failing to avoid one.”

To prevent distractions from cell phone use and texting while driving, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin State Patrol advise all drivers to:

– Turn off your phone or switch to a silent mode.

– Use voice mail to tell callers that you’re driving and will return the call as soon as possible.

– If you absolutely need to use your cell phone to call or text, pull over to a safe area.

– Ask a passenger to make a call or text for you.

– Download a mobile app that prevents texting while driving.

Trooper Basanese also offers some tips to help decrease distracted driving:

– Get familiar with vehicle features and equipment before driving.

– Preset radio stations, MP3 devices and climate control.

– Secure items that may move around when the car is in motion. – Do not reach down or behind the seat to pick up items.

– Do not text, access the internet, watch videos, play video games, search MP3 devices, or use any other distracting technology while driving.

– Avoid smoking, eating, drinking, and reading while driving.

– Pull safely off the road and out of traffic to deal with children.

– Do personal grooming at home – not in the vehicle.

– Review maps and driving directions before hitting the road.

– Ask a passenger to help with activities that may be distracting.

– If driving long distances, schedule regular stops to take a break, every 100 miles or two hours.

– Travel at times when you are normally awake and stay overnight rather than driving straight through the night.

– Avoid alcohol and medications that may make you drowsy.