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Pledge to drive free of distractions

One-hundred-sixty-five Perham High School students pledged not to text and drive in an "It Can Wait" campaign conducted recently. Kudos to those 165 students. It earned them first place honors and a $100 prize over three other area schools. But it translates to only 37 percent of the students committing to the pledge.

In the week prior to the mock crash demonstration on April 27 at PHS to highlight the dangers of distracted driving, a contest was held between four schools: Perham, Underwood, Battle Lake and Henning, asking students to sign a pledge not to text and drive. It's a quite disheartening to know that so few students took the message to heart.

In all fairness, we should note that not all PHS students are driving. Ninth graders are not old enough to take drivers education and most sophomores aren't driving yet either, though they may be taking drivers ed. That leaves roughly 335 students who may have taken the pledge, which increases the percentage of commitment to 50 percent. Whether a current driver or a future driver, the contest was open to all PHS students, so conceivably, all 448 could have adopted the pledge.

We think 50 percent is still too low and should spur us into having a conversation, at the very least, with our young drivers.

Here are some other scary numbers: According to research conducted by AT&T, nearly four-in-10 smartphone users tap into social media while driving. Almost three-in-10 surf the net. And surprisingly, one-in-10 video chat.

Seven-in-10 people (not just kids) engage in smartphone activities while driving. Texting and emailing are still the most prevalent. But other smartphone activity use behind the wheel is now common. Among social platforms, Facebook tops the list, with more than a quarter of those polled using the app while driving. About 1-in-7 said they're on Twitter behind the wheel.

In Minnesota, distracted driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths, and 350 serious injuries, according to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety. Worse, that number is likely much higher due to an inability to determine distraction as a crash factor.

These numbers are enough to keep a person from driving. Of course, the reality is, we can't stop driving. However, we can control what we do behind the wheel.

Although the pledge to not text and drive was requested of students in area high schools, adults should also take the pledge. We've all had a close call while driving, and perhaps by luck, a guardian angel on our shoulder or years of driving experience, managed to avoided a crash. But our increased dependence on cell phones puts adults at fault, too. We must be vigilant when behind the wheel and model the behavior we want children to learn from us.

There are ways to avoid distracted driving that are proven to reduce the chances of a crash:

-Turn off cell phones, or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial or answer.

-Pre-program favorite radio stations for easy access. Adjust mirrors and heat or AC before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.

-Designate a passenger to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance, and pull over to study a map or enter a destination into your phone's navigation app.

-Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle.

-If a passenger, speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior.

For the safety of ourselves, our passengers and other drivers, we must all avoid distracted driving. We shudder to think of the consequences if we don't all engage in safe driving practices every time we get behind the wheel.

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