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The Windham County Highway Safety Task Force consisting of officers from the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, Bellows Falls Police Department, Brattleboro Police Department and Dover Police Department will join law enforcement agencies nationwide now through April 12, to remind drivers about the dangers and consequences of texting and distracted driving. This annual campaign is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” high-visibility enforcement effort.

According to NHTSA, between 2012 and 2019, 26,004 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver. While fatalities from motor-vehicle crashes decreased slightly from 2018, distraction-related fatalities increased by 10 percent. NHTSA also reported that the number of deaths linked to driver distraction was 3,142 nationwide, or almost 9 percent of all fatalities in 2019. This represents a 10 percent increase over the year 2018, or 284 more fatalities. The distraction figure was the largest increase in causes of traffic deaths reported for 2019.

Millennials and Gen Z are the most distracted drivers, often using their cell phones to talk, text, and scroll through social media while behind the wheel. According to NHTSA research from 2017, young drivers 16 to 24 years old have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007.

“We aren’t out here for the fun of it,” said Windham County Highway Safety Task Force Coordinator, Sgt. Chris Norton. “Texting, messaging, and other forms of distracted driving are increasing habits that put everyone at risk, even those of us in law enforcement. We want drivers to focus on the most important task: hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”

Violating Vermont’s distracted-driving laws can be costly:

Adult Use of a Portable Electronic Device carries a minimum penalty of $162 and 2 points on your license for normal violations to a maximum penalty of $507 and 5 points on your license for work/school zone violations.

Junior Use of a Portable Electronic Device carries a minimum penalty of $220 and 2 points on your license for normal violations to a maximum penalty of $507 and 5 points on your license for work/school zone violations.

Texting While Driving carries a minimum penalty of $220 and 5 points on license to a maximum penalty of $479/5 points on license for repeat offenders.

If you are the driver, follow these safety steps:

If you are expecting a text message or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location.

Ask your passenger to be your “designated texter.” Allow them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages.

Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.

Activate your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” feature, or put your phone in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of your vehicle until you arrive at your destination.

For more information, visit www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/distracted-driving.

You can also follow the Windham County Highway Safety Task Force on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WindhamCountyHSTF.

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