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Distracted drivers plus school zones equal a deadly combination

As kids head back to school, a new study by Safe Kids of Snohomish County, entitled "Characteristics of Distracted Drivers in School Zones: A National Report," reveals a scary truth. One out of every six drivers in school zones is distracted. With cell phones, e-mail and text messaging being added to the list of more traditional distractions like eating and grooming, there are more ways than ever for drivers to become distracted, and potentially dangerous to children as they walk to and from school.

About 10 percent of drivers were caught using hand-held electronics, such as cell phones, PDAs and Smart-phones. These devices were the leading cause of distraction. Laws on using electronics while driving are still being hotly debated, but this research shows that simply having such a law on the books could help reduce distracted driving. States that have such laws are 13 percent less likely to have distracted drivers in school zones.

Recent studies have measured the driving skills of distracted drivers, showing they perform as bad or worse than drivers who are drunk. This is frightening for anyone on the road, but it's a particularly dangerous situation when kids are added into the mix.

Common traits of distracted driving:

• Seatbelt use. Drivers who don't wear seatbelts are 34 percent more likely to be distracted than drivers who buckle up. As a driver, if you engage in one risky behavior, you are more likely to engage in multiple unsafe driving behaviors.

• Time of day. Afternoon drivers are 22 percent more likely to be distracted than morning drivers. Throughout the year, one in three child pedestrian deaths occur between 3-7 p.m., making afternoons the most dangerous time for children to walk.

• Gender. Female drivers are 21 percent more likely to be distracted than male drivers. Moms today have a million things on their to-do lists, and too often, women are multitasking behind the wheel. That doesn't mean male drivers are off the hook, since their rate of distraction is also too high.

• Traffic volume. People driving on roads with a lot of traffic are 16 percent more likely to be distracted than those driving on roads with less traffic.

Safe Kids and FedEx have been working together for 10 years on the "Walk This Way" program, which educates children about walking safely. They conduct programs in more than 600 schools and have reached more than a million kids all across the United States.

"Walk This Way" tips for kids to stay safe:

• Children should always cross the street with an adult, until the age 10.

• Pause your music, hang up your cell phone and don't text until you've safely crossed the street.

• Never play hand-held games while walking.

• Cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks.

• Look left, right and left again when crossing.

• Always walk, never run, when crossing streets.

• Walk on sidewalks or paths.

• Walk facing traffic, as far to the left as possible if there are no sidewalks.

• Never run out into the street or cross in between parked cars.

In turn, drivers can make themselves safer by slowing down and staying alert in residential neighborhoods and school zones. They should also eliminate any distractions inside their cars, so that they can concentrate on the road and their surroundings, and watch for children on and near the road in the morning and after school hours.

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