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Beltrami County plans efforts against distracted driving

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BEMIDJI - The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office plans extra enforcement Thursday in an effort to reduce distracted driving.

Driver distraction is a leading crash factor in Minnesota, accounting for around 20 percent of all crashes annually, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 injuries, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.

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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 or stuck in traffic. It is also illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone at any time.

"Your focus behind the wheel is far more important than the text message you are sending or reading behind the wheel," says Trish Grimsley, Safe Neighborhoods Coalition coordinator for Beltrami County. "Drivers need to make a serious effort to recognize and limit dangerous and unnecessary distractions, and passengers need speak up to stop and prevent drivers from texting."

A University of Utah study reports that using a cell phone while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, delays a driver's reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of 0.08 percent. When texting, drivers take their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 out of every 6 seconds - equivalent to traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph hours.

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