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Editorial — Texting and driving — Enforce the law upon yourself

Are you familiar with the term "text-ended?" We hope not, but chances are decent that someone you know has first-hand experience with it.

"Text-ended" refers to the act of sending a text message while driving and failing to notice that the car in front of you has stopped or slowed down. The resulting rear-end collision is known as a "text-ender," and although it’s a slightly humorous term, don’t expect police, your insurance company or the person you hit to laugh much.

The good news is that as of today, texting while driving in Minnesota has been illegal for exactly one year. Perhaps to help mark this occasion, Gov. Pawlenty has proclaimed that Saturday will be "Distraction-Free Driving Day" across the state.

The declaration states: "Eighty percent of all crashes occur within three seconds of a driver distraction event, and many fatalities could be avoided by simply following safe driving practices such as using hands-free cell phones and avoiding texting, e-mailing, accessing the Web, tuning radios and stereos, and looking at maps while driving."

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s 2008 crash data indicates that 74 people were died on our roads last year due to distracted driving, and 8,999 were injured. All told, 12,428 accidents were attributed to distracted driving.

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Cell phones and text messaging aren’t the only sources of driver distraction, but they’re certainly major contributors to the problem. A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a texting driver is up to 23 times more likely to cause an accident. Simply dialing a number on a cell phone increases your risk threefold.

That’s why we’re incredulous that 36 states have no laws against text messaging behind the wheel. There is a move afoot in Congress to pass a nationwide ban against texting and sending e-mails while driving, and we heartily endorse such a measure. States that don’t comply would risk losing 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

But even a nationwide ban won’t solve the problem without voluntary compliance. Olmsted County Sheriff Steve Von Wald said his deputies are vigilant in watching for the tell-tale signs that a driver is paying attention to something other than the road — erratic speeds, crossing the center line or drifting onto the shoulder — but it can be difficult to catch them in the act of texting.

"We’re trying to spend more time parked, watching people go by, but once we get someone pulled over, the phone has been stashed," he said. "They’re not going to admit to you that they were texting, so they get a ticket for inattentive driving. That’s what we tend to fall back on."

Folks, this one is real simple. Texting while driving is illegal because it kills people. If you get a text while you’re behind the wheel, don’t read it. If you must send a text, pull over.

Don’t wait until you’ve text-ended someone to do the right thing.

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