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The hope is that the downward trend will continue.

As of April 1, 189 people have died on South Carolina highways. That’s bad news. But consider that the toll is 59 less than a year ago at the same time, when the deaths totaled 248.

The number represents 59 lives not lost in a state that has some of the deadliest roads in America. We can and must do better yet.

As no one will dispute, the objective has to be zero traffic fatalities.

Toward that end, combatting a growing problem on the road is vital. The danger is so real that America now has a National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. April is it.

Being aware means knowing that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers show 10 people a day are killed in distracted driving crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to AAA Carolinas citing S.C. Department of Public Safety numbers, 60 of South Carolina’s highway deaths a year ago can be directly attributed to distracted driving. AAA Carolinas believes the number is actually a lot higher as many drivers do not readily admit to distracted driving, such as texting, at the time of the crash.

“No distraction -- whether texting or eating -- is ever worth the loss of life on the roadway,” AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety President Tiffany Wright said. “These senseless deaths can easily be prevented if drivers simply choose to focus on the core task of driving when behind the wheel.”

Contrary to what some drivers may think, hands-free, handheld and in-vehicle technologies are not distraction-free, even if a driver’s eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel. The latest AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research found that:

• Drivers who text when behind the wheel more than double their odds of being involved in a crash.

• Drivers who talk on a cell phone (either hands-free or handheld) when behind the wheel may elevate their odds of being involved in a crash.

• Drivers who use in-vehicle technologies, like voice-based and touch screen features, can be distracted for more than 40 seconds when completing tasks like programming navigation or sending a text message.

• Removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash, according to previous research.

Driving is a complex task that requires a driver’s full attention. AAA advises:

• Put down your phone and other electronic gadgets.

• Never use text-messaging, email functions, video games or the internet with a wireless device, including those built into the vehicle.

• Designate a passenger to answer in-coming calls, send or respond to text messages and to assist with navigation when the vehicle is in motion. Only use these technologies for legitimate emergencies or urgent, driving related purposes.

In South Carolina, texting while driving is illegal. But being cited and fined may be the least of the problems associated with the practice.

More than 37,000 people were killed in crashes on U.S. roadways in 2016, NHTSA numbers show. That should tell everyone how dangerous the roads are – and how important it is not be distracted in any way from getting to your destination without harming yourself and others.

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