Scott: We mentioned it yesterday but April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. So if you have trouble staying focused on the road or keeping your hands on the wheel, well, the government is hoping its new campaign will get your attention. Tom Hanson has more.
Madi Fisher: It just makes me realize that stuff happens.
Tom: Sixteen-year-old Madi Fisher and her best friend Taylor were inseparable until Taylor was killed when she picked up her phone while driving.
Madi: I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy because it’s the worst feeling in the world.
Tom: So when Madi sits behind the steering wheel, she sees the road differently than your average 16 year old.
Madi: I don’t want to make the mistakes that a lot of teenagers make that pick up their phones and just don’t pay attention.
Tom: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2012, more than 3,300 people nationwide were killed and about 420,000 injured in distracted-driving-related cases.
But even Madi admits she still struggles to keep the phone down when she is driving.
Madi: Honestly, I mean, I am tempted to a lot of times.
Tom: In 43 states, texting while driving is against the law. But that hasn’t stopped people from using their phones behind the wheel in large numbers. Whether it is texting, talking, or even taking your eyes off the road, it is all considered distracted driving. That is why the Department of Transportation is launching a new $8.5 million ad campaign to stop texting and driving.
Expert: We want folks to know that if they text while they’re driving, it is a safety hazard. Sometimes we have to be shocked into recognizing the reality. And the reality is that distracted driving is not safe.
Tom: And many of those distracted drivers are teens.
Expert: Maybe approximately 70% are teenagers. Now, talking on the phones, it can vary. Any age.
Tom: In Westchester County, New York, it only took a state trooper in an unmarked SUV a matter of minutes for him to pull over several drivers with their phones.
State trooper: You see right there, right hand with the phone, with the orange piece around the black phone? We’re going to initiate a traffic stop here.
Tom: The new government ads are set to air next week, and along with them there will also be penalties and fines. Local and state law enforcement officers are ramping up efforts to track down and ticket texting drivers, hoping to prevent accidents like the one that killed Taylor.
Tom Hanson, Channel One News.