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AAA: 'Distracted driving' still big problem

Automobile-travel-industry representatives are preparing for a campaign to reiterate, for motorists, the hazards of distracted driving in the information age.

AAA Auto Club South is emphasizing, in particular, the dangers of sending, and/or reading text messages or e-mails while driving. In response to the apparently still-wide-spread practice nationally, AAA and the AAA Foundation will hold their second annual Heads Up Driving Week, which includes a publicity, and education and awareness campaign, Sept. 26-Oct. 2, to encourage drivers to drive without distractions.

Michele Harris, the director of Traffic Safety Culture at AAA Auto Club South, which covers Georgia, Florida, the western two-thirds of Tennessee, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said 52 percent of drivers surveyed by her group feel less safe on the roads than they did five years ago, due to other motorists sending e-mails or text messages while behind the wheel.

"A lot of times, drivers see people texting and driving, or on a cell phone while driving, and research tells us they don't feel safe," said Harris. "Eighty-eight percent of drivers rated [motorists] who text or e-mail as serious threats to their safety."

Although many drivers acknowledge the dangers of distracted driving, Harris continued, many of them "don't act accordingly," often participating in the same activities they condemn in other drivers.

"A quarter of those we surveyed said they had read or sent a text, or e-mail, while driving in the last month," Harris said.

In June, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law in Georgia, banning the practice of texting while driving. The law went into effect July 1.

Still, Harris added, the responsibility of abiding by the law regarding cell phone and e-mail usage by drivers, ultimately rests on drivers themselves. She urged motorists to be mindful of others' well-being when operating a vehicle.

"Any text or e-mail is not worth the life, of you, or anyone on the road," Harris said.

In Henry County, motorists largely adhere to the new laws regarding texting and driving, according to Henry County Police Capt. Jason Bolton. He said police are hopeful Georgia's texting law, and its Super Speeder law, will help to reduce traffic accidents, and make roads safer.

"Officers have written only a handful of tickets in reference to the new law," Bolton said. "We have issued three tickets, and one warning. If an officer observes what appears to be someone texting while driving, then the officer may conduct a traffic stop and investigate further."