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Driven to distraction: School-zone danger

By Grace Joyal
Published On: Apr 24 2014 11:48:11 PM CDT

In a special report, NewsChannel 21's Grace Joyal talks about a potentially deadly combination -- drivers, cellphones and school zones filled with kids

BEND, Ore -

Distracted driving affects all of us, whether you're guilty of doing it or not. Maybe we're afraid of missing something --  that we won't get everything done.

But in this 24/7 world, what's a few minutes lost, compared to a lost life?

If the stiff fines or chances of tragedy don't scare you, think about the kids, heading to school every day, that we're endangering.

Mountain View High School senior Alex Turner says he's been biking to school for four years.

"Often times, more than not, ill see a few kind of swerve a little bit into the bike lane and swerve out," he says.

His friend, junior Shelby Hepburn, agrees that drivers are careless. Alex and Shelby are just two of about 1,200 students who go to Mountain View. They're two of many who walk or bike to school each day.

"You have to be completely aware of your surroundings," Alex says. "Or else you're going to get hurt."

From a high school along a major street to a small, neighborhood elementary school, we saw many drivers texting and driving, too distracted to notice they were in a school zone.

"We're getting the feedback from people that are seeing these issues out on the street," says Bend Police Lt. Nick Parker. "They're concerned enough that they're giving us a call."

Parents I talked to, dropping their kids off at school, said they see it every day.

"I think that people just don't get the significance, or the concern, or the importance of just not doing it," Parker says.

And Bend police are cracking down. In 2013, the department issued almost 300 citations to distracted drivers. So far in 2014, they've already written 150.

Get caught, and your minimum fine is $160. The maximum is $500.

If that doesn't intimidate you, the National highway Transportation Safety Administration finds texting while driving is the equivalent of drinking four beers and driving.

Commute Options in Bend is hoping to hit parents beyond the shock factor, and create a dialogue about a change in mindset.

"We're modeling, every time we talk on the phone or use our phone in front of kids in the car," says Kim Curley, Commute Options' community outreach coordinator. "And that's not really what we want to see them do."

Instead, the nonprofit is promoting the practice of driving the speed limit, stopping for pedestrians, and keeping the phone out of reach.

"Unfortunately, behavior change takes a lot of effort," Curley says. "I think if a community is really interested in keeping the roadways safe, we can all work together."

To set an example for our children now, and make for a safer future later on.

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