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Pioneer Editorial: Don’t be a distracted driver

Despite Monday’s smattering of precipitation, the snow- and ice-covered driving conditions of this long winter should be behind us. With spring melt here, motorists now should also keep an eye out for flooded-out roads.

But regardless of the time of year, there’s another danger out on the roads that’s always in season: Distracted driving.

The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office, Bemidji Police Department, as well as other statewide law enforcement agencies, once again this week are cracking down on distracted driving, which accounts for about 25 percent of all crashes annually, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. On average, distracted driving accounts for approximately 60 fatalities and 8,000 injuries annually, the DPS said, and inattention was a contributing factor in 17,598 crashes (23 percent of all crashes), 68 fatalities and 8,038 injuries in 2013.

Distracted driving takes many forms — it can be as simple as changing a CD in the stereo or waving to the neighbor, but it also can be extremely dangerous, such as texting while driving, which is illegal in Minnesota.

The latest crackdown started April 11, and according to the Highway Patrol, preliminary numbers released Monday show that 131 citations were issued for texting while driving during the first three days of the campaign. Those are scary numbers.

“Drivers need to make a serious effort to recognize and limit dangerous and unnecessary distractions, and passengers need to speak up to stop and prevent drivers from texting,” James Martin, Beltrami County’s “Towards Zero Deaths” coordinator, said in a press release. “Your focus behind the wheel is far more important than the text message you are sending or reading behind the wheel.”

The ability to drive a vehicle in Minnesota is a privilege, not a right. Every trip on the roadways, whether city streets or the highway, is a serious matter and alert motorists are the key element in reducing fatalities. Never drink and drive. Never text and drive. Always be alert. If you can’t do those things, please, let someone else drive.