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The Watertown Police Department is joining law enforcement agencies nationwide beginning now through Monday in an effort to remind drivers about the dangers and consequences of texting and distracted driving. This annual campaign is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) national U Drive. U Text. U Pay. high-visibility enforcement effort.

Captain Steve Rehorst of the Watertown Police Department says it only takes a split second to be involved in a tragic incident……

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%.

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. In 2019, 9% of people killed in teen (15-19) driving crashes died when the teen drivers were distracted at the time of the crash.

Although the campaign runs from now through Monday, Captain Rehorst said they will have extra officers on the road between 2pm and 6pm today, just to focus on those violations……

“We aren’t out here for the fun of it,” said Rehorst.  “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 South Dakota’s distracted-driving laws can be costly. As Rehorst said, the fine for a distracted driving ticket is $180 but he doesn’t want to write a ticket, he says he would just rather have you put the phone down until you reach your destination.