Editor’s Note: The safety tip for the month of March is provided by Mifflin County Communities That Care (CTC). This is an ongoing monthly series provided by CTC to help inform the public about key areas of health and or safety concerns. This month’s article was written by Jennifer Hepner, Secretary for Communities That Care.

What is distracted driving? Distracted driving is any non-driving activity that a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increases the risk of crashing. There are three different types of distractions – visual (takings your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off what you’re doing). Examples of distractions are talking on your cell phone, texting on your cell phone, eating, grooming, talking to passengers, reading maps, using a GPS, using an MP3 player, changing the radio station, etc. While all types of distractions are dangerous, texting is the most dangerous distraction since it involves all three types of distractions at once.

Here are the facts. Using a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as driving with a blood alcohol contact at the legal limit of .08 percent. In layman’s terms, using a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. Drivers using hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves or others. In 2008, distracted drivers were responsible for car crashes that killed 5,870 people (18% of all fatalities). Distracted drivers were also responsible for 1,630,000 crashes that resulted in injuries. And even though these numbers are significant, they may not state the true size of the problem because identification of distraction and its role in a crash can be very difficult to determine or may be unreported.

Distracted driving due to the use of electronic devices has grown exponentially in recent years and poses a significant and growing concern. Everyone can take action to prevent distracted driving and help reduce injuries and save lives. No step is too small.

First, set a good example for your children, family, and friends by reducing if not eliminating distracting actions while driving, particularly cell phone use. Turn your cell phone on mute and put it out of reach while driving to reduce your temptation to use it. And, when you are not driving, if you call someone who is driving, tell them you’ll call back or ask them to call you when they are safely at their destination. If you are the passenger in a vehicle and the driver goes to make a call, send a text, put on their lipstick and so forth, simply ask them to wait until they are finished driving.

Second, work on having better time management so you don’t feel the need to multi-task while driving. Driving time is just for driving.

Finally, talk with your teens about distracted driving. Let them know that you love them and want them to be safe and not get involved in a distracted driving crash. One text message could change their lives forever if they crash and kill someone.

Also, know the law for teen drivers. Many Graduated Driver Licensing laws have cell phone and texting bans. You can set up rules and consequences for your teens to prevent them from driving while distracted.

And finally, as we said earlier, please set an example yourself by not engaging in these distracting behaviors while you drive.

(Note: This information was taken from www.distraction.gov, the official U.S. Government website for distracted driving.)