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Today is not the day to be behind the wheel texting

ST. PAUL -- In an effort to educate motorists about the dangers of distracted driving, today, more than 80 Minnesota law enforcement agencies will increase patrols and ticket drivers when they observe dangerous distracting behavior. Gov. Pawlenty has proclaimed today as "Distraction-Free Driving Day." The education and enforcement campaign is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

DPS cites that drivers are required to pay attention and drive with "reasonable and due care." Motorists can be stopped for behavior that would endanger the motoring public. The campaign includes enforcement of illegal texting behind the wheel. In Minnesota, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose, or send texts/emails, and access the Web on a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic, such as at a stoplight. It is also illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone at any time.

"This campaign's goal is to heighten awareness of the dangers of driving distracted, and it's an opportunity to ask motorists to comply and drive with safety and common sense in mind," says Capt. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol. "When you're behind the wheel, your total focus is required."

Driver distraction is a leading factor in crashes in Minnesota, accounting for around 25 percent of all crashes annually, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 injuries. DPS reports these numbers are vastly underreported due to officers' challenges of determining "distraction" as a contributing crash factor.

"Distraction-Free Driving Day" is supported by a current paid media campaign that includes TV, print and radio. DPS partnered to co-brand existing AT&T anti-texting TV commercials. The print ads compare texting thumbs to serious weapons -- such as guns, grenades and aircraft dive-bombers. On the radio side, three spots mimic sensational TV news promotions from "Minnesota's station for news" and its investigative exposés on various texting and driving techniques. Download the creative at, or visit and click on the "Distracted Driving" link on the left side.

DPS offers these tips to minimize distractions:

· Cell phones -- turn off cell phones, or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial/answer or text. If a passenger is present, ask them to handle calls/texts.

· Music and other controls -- pre-program favorite radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and AC/heat before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.

· Navigation -- 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.

· Eating and drinking -- if you cannot avoid food/beverage, at least avoid messy foods, and be sure food and drinks are secured.

· Children -- teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle; do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.

· If you're a passenger, speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior.