Even the most LOL-worthy text message is not worth risking your life to read while driving. That's the message of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, or as you may know it, April.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) catchy slogan for its third annual campaign: "One Text or Call could Wreck it All."
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In 2009, distracted driving killed nearly 5,500 people and injured almost half-a-million. Another disturbing stat: 16% of all fatal crashes that same year involved distracted driving.
But the campaign does have some hopeful statistics to share. Now that California's ban on texting and talking on a handheld cellphone while driving has been in effect for two years, road fatalities have fallen 22%.
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Other states are catching up. In West Virigina, a law prohibiting texting and using a handheld phone while driving will go into effect July 2012. West Virgina will be the 10th state to outlaw texting and handheld devices while driving, not counting Washington DC, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
The DOT still has a lot of work to do to lower the incidences of car accidents caused by distracted drivers. A study by researchers at the University of Utah shows using a cellphone while driving -- whether it's handheld or hands-free device -- delays a driver's reactions the same as having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit of .08%.
But cellphones are just the first frontier in distracted driving. The DOT is continuing to conduct research about whether or not GPS devices and hands-free headsets distract drivers by affecting cognitive abilities, Ray LaHood, secretary of transportation for the DOT, says in this YouTube video.
During one pilot program in 2010 conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- called "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other" -- law enforcement witnessed a decrease in cellphone use while driving. The program was enforced in four waves over the course of a one-year span in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York.
In total, nearly 20,000 tickets or citations were issued.
The results were impressive. In Syracuse, handheld cellphone use while driving decreased by one-third. In Hartford -- where the instance of driving while using a cellphone was unusually high -- there was a 57 percent decrease in handheld cellphone use while driving and a nearly three-quarter drop in texting while driving.
To drive home the point, the DOT also hosts a series of video on its YouTube called, "Faces of Distracted Driving." Each of the videos highlight one story of fatalities caused by distracted driving. AT&T presented a similar campaign in 2010 with a 10-minute documentary called, "The Last Text," which has nearly three million views to-date.
But not all countries are tackling the driving and cellphone use issue the same way. The Swedish National Road and Transport Institute recently said texting or using a handheld phone while driving is "harmless."
The organization said there are no official statistics of how many car accidents are caused by distracted drivers in Sweden, but there are numerous studies that show driver focus is equally impaired whether drivers are using a headset or a phone. The biggest difference between the two was that drivers using headsets were more confident.
In the U.S. at least it seems drivers and car companies alike have welcomed the idea of using hands free devices to communicate while driving. In-car technology such as Ford Sync allows driver to have their text messages read aloud to them or adjust music via voice control.
But such technology walks the line between convenient and distracting. Plus, it's facing opposition by the DOT.
What, if any, legislation would you support that restricts drivers' use of cellphones or other devices while operating a vehicle? Sound off in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.