FORT SILL, Okla.-- Did you know that "distracted driving" was the 2009 phrase of the year according to Webster's Dictionary? But unfortunately, this is no passing fad. Distracted driving has become a trend with deadly, real consequences.

It's time to turn this trend into a message of awareness. April was National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Fort Sill Directorate of Emergency Services is working to make drivers alert to the dangers.

For people who believe they can talk on their phone, text, apply make-up or do any other activity while driving, here's a crash course in reality from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

In 2009, nearly 5,500 people were killed and a half million more injured in distracted driving crashes.

Twenty percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving.

Younger, inexperienced drivers under age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

In addition to those statistics, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety officials stated drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to be involved in a serious crash.

While those numbers may sound like just statistics, they're anything but. They could be parents, children, neighbors and friends from Fort Sill. There are too many sad tales of deaths and injuries that could have been prevented had drivers paid attention to the road instead of someone or something else.

So, why do so many people participate in this dangerous behavior? With more technology now than ever, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented levels. We live in a world where people expect instant, real-time information 24 hours a day. Those desires don't stop just because they get behind the wheel. Drivers simply do not realize, or choose to ignore the danger, they create when they take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel and their focus off driving.

Some people say, "I can do two things at once. I've memorized where the numbers are on my phone, so I don't have to look." Or, "Sending or reading one text is pretty quick- that should be OK." They couldn't be more wrong.

For those who think they can do two things at once, think about this: According to a study by Carnegie Mellon, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. Can you really afford to lose that much brainpower? Driving is an activity that requires your full attention and focus to keep yourself and others safe.

Yes, this is a national problem, and it affects us in Oklahoma. No one is immune from the dangers of distracted driving. Throughout April, Fort Sill police officers conducted a high visibility law enforcement effort encouraging drivers to avoid unnecessary distractions.

Fort Sill Supplement 1 to Army Regulation 190-5 states:

1. In accordance with 32 CFR Section 634.25, using hand-held cell phones while driving a U.S. government vehicle or privately-owned vehicle on Fort Sill is prohibited. This prohibition applies to the driver of the vehicle only and shall not be enforced against any passenger in or on the vehicle. A driver who wants to use a hand-held cell phone must move the vehicle safely off or to the side of the road and completely stop out of the way of moving traffic before using a cell phone. The following uses are permissible:

When the driver uses a hands-free cell telephone, which allows the user to communicate without the use of either hand, so long as the hands-free cell phone does not involve the use of a headset that covers both ears.

When operating an authorized emergency or law enforcement vehicle in the performance of official duties.

(2) This prohibition applies to hand-held cell phones only and is not applicable to microphones or radios typically used in cabs and authorized emergency vehicles. A violation of this prohibition may result in a $50 fine and/or 30 days in jail as decided by the U.S. magistrate.

The use of cell phones off-post is subject to the same restrictions as the use of cell phones on Fort Sill. A violation of the off-post prohibition on the use of hand-held cell phones may result in adverse administrative action (reprimand, assessment of points, loss of on-post driving privileges or other actions) in accordance with AR 190-5, paragraph 4-2d.

Officers will ticket and fine drivers they catch violating these laws, emphasizing to all drivers that their focus needs to be on the road.

Commit to stop driving distracted. Remember: One text or call could wreck it all.

Page last updated Thu May 10th, 2012 at 00:00