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There are few rules of the road more commonly plastered on billboards than the conventional advice, don’t drink and drive. If you cause a crash while under the influence, odds are that you’ll be charged with reckless operation, DUI, endangerment, and any number of other choice convictions to dress up your record. In addition, you risk a suspended license, heavy fines, loss of life, injuring others on the road, and even jail time, depending on the nature of the offense and its consequences.

The Ad Council has made it a mission to alert the public to the dangers of alcohol impairment behind the wheel. Recently, its “Buzzed Driving” campaign has focused public attention devastating effects of mixing drinking and driving at any level. However, shoved behind the message about the dangers of drunk driving, equally important messages about driving safety have fallen by the wayside, to the extent that the public doesn’t seem to consider its most dangerous habits unsafe. Specifically, while a driver may not go straight from the bar to his or her car, he or she may not be as reluctant to whip out a cell phone on the highway and start sending messages to friends and family.

"Distracted driving" is just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, because of decreased awareness, common practice, and incomplete legislation on the issue, it may be more dangerous simply because drivers do not consider it a threat to multitask behind the wheel. One fifth of experienced drivers admit to using a cell phone to send text messages while driving. However, if a driver gets into an accident because of drinking or because of texting, the possibility of injuring him or herself, passengers, or other drivers is the same. Nevertheless, drivers continue to prioritize cell phone use over alert, focused, and careful driving practices.

Sadly, this seems to be the case not just with inexperienced or amateur drivers, but also with those who drive for a living. In April 2009, a San Antonio city bus driver traveling down a crowded highway caused a multi-car accident when he rear ended an SUV at the end of a line of stopped traffic. (See footage below.) The driver wasn’t simply in a hurry, he was not drinking, and he was not talking on the phone or to other passengers. Instead, for six minutes before causing the crash, the driver sent and received text messages. Bus passengers included two disabled citizens, who were unaware of the driver’s actions until the crash and could have done nothing to interfere.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 6,000 highway fatalities per year involve some form of distracted driving, including texting. Because of the high risks of texting while driving, thirty states and Washington, D.C. have taken steps to put a stop to distracted driving by passing laws that prohibit cell phone use. However, these measures are incomplete and are often difficult to enforce until it is already too late. While an officer may be able to catch a speeding driver, it is often much more difficult to tell whether a driver is distracted until an accident actually occurs.

All drivers must make driving the vehicle their only priority from the time they start the car until they reach their destinations. Being aware of possible diversions on the road can help you avoid them ,and making an effort to stay focused behind the wheel helps to reduce the chances of an accident. By making a choice to eliminate distracters like texting until you have finished driving, you can keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers safer on the road.

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