Traffic deaths nationwide and in Minnesota are at their lowest level in decades. But the percentage of fatalities caused by distracted driving is rising.
With that in mind, Minnesota safety advocates Tuesday announced a campaign to tell the people most at risk, young drivers -- and their parents -- to keep their eyes on the road.
Among those urging drivers to pay better attention is Dan Phillips of Shorewood, who said his daughter is dead because the driver of a car she was riding in was distracted.
Phillips will never forget the day three years ago when his daughter Kelly, 17, and two friends headed to a high school event in the southwestern Twin Cities suburbs. Kylie Grayden, a family friend and Kelly's classmate at Minnetonka High School, was driving.
"Kylie was distracted, either texting or adjusting her iPod, and the wheels went off the road," Phillips said. On Tuesday, he carried a photo of the section of road, which is mostly wide and straight with a slight curve.
"She overcorrected to the left, headed for the left ditch, pulled it back to the right. And if you look at this you can actually see the tire tracks leading into the ditch," he said.
The car carrying the three teens went into the ditch and rolled. The only survivor was the driver's cousin Mitch Grengs, who was wearing a seatbelt in the front seat.
Phillips said his daughter Kelly was a faithful seatbelt user, but was a rear seat passenger in a vehicle where the belt didn't work.
The driver, Kylie Grayden, was dead at the scene. Kelly Phillips was critically injured, taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, and died the next day.
Safety advocates say such tragedies illustrate a major problem.
"The proportion of fatalities that are associated with driver distraction increased by more than 50 percent from 2005 to 2008," said Carol Bufton, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Safety Council.
A survey by the AAA motor club in Minnesota and Iowa earlier this year showed a very high rate of distracted driving among people 20 years old and younger.
"Eighty-six percent of teens admit to driving distracted on occasion," said Gail Weinholzer, a spokeswoman for the group. "Teenagers engage in distracted driving for three reasons: To save time; because they don't see it as dangerous; and to avoid boredom."
Minnesota law prohibits drivers 18 and under from texting and talking on cell phones. State law also prohibits people of any age from texting while driving.
However, Minnesota, along with 40 other states, still allows adult drivers to talk on their cell phones.
Repeated efforts in Minnesota over the years to prohibit handheld cell phone use while driving have failed.
The safety advocates have created a new website, PayAttentionandDrive.org, to combat distracted driving.
They want people to visit and comment, anonymously, when they engage in or witness distracted driving that causes -- or almost causes -- a crash. They want the comments to serve as warnings and reminders to others about the dangers of distracted driving.