I sat at my desk the other day reviewing a higher-than-normal stack of fatality reports. The accident reports are sent each month by the attending law enforcement agencies throughout the nine-county Lufkin District. TxDOT officials study the reports in hopes of determining if anything can be done to enhance the safety of the roadway at the crash sites. It’s not a fun part of my job, but a necessary one.

The reports are high priority in monthly safety meetings. The pictures and descriptions sometimes weigh heavy on our minds as we intently search for answers as to what caused some of the crashes.

I was disturbed more than usual this month. Of the nearly two dozen fatality reports, about half of them had no reason listed as to why the driver veered off the roadway or into oncoming traffic. In many of the reports I see each month, the only thing we can determine is the driver was somehow distracted.

As I write this, I am preparing to speak to local driver’s education students at several local high schools about how to drive safely through a TxDOT work zone, but you can bet I will not leave those schools without talking about distracted driving. I hope to leave the impression with these teens that being distracted behind the wheel of a moving vehicle – even once – can cost you your life.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and TxDOT annually launches the “Talk, Text, Crash” safety campaign to remind drivers to stay focused on driving. The current statistics have been released and they don’t look good.

One in every five crashes in Texas is caused by distracted driving and the problem is growing. In 2016, the numbers increased 3 percent from 2015 – to a staggering 108,962 distracted driving crashes in Texas. Those crashes took the lives of 452 people and seriously injured another 3,068. What’s equally disturbing is that those crashes are highest with drivers between the ages of 16 to 34.

Among Texas drivers, 38 percent admit to regularly using their cell phones while driving – either talking or texting. Keep in mind, that percentage represents only those who admit to it.

We want you to remember that when you look away from the road for five seconds, it is the same as driving the length of a football field blindfolded. If you want to increase yours or someone else’s odds of living as you drive from point A to point B, please put down the phone.

Parents, preach it to your teens. While you are preaching, make sure they know that state law prohibits teens under 18 from using mobile phones, including hands-free devices while driving.

So far, 90 cities in Texas have banned the use of cell phones by drivers, including the City of Nacogdoches. I applaud officials and law enforcement for trying to enforce these laws, but the bottom line is this: Only the driver can make the choice.

Only we can choose whether to text while driving, or talk on the phone, eat, put on makeup, turn to look at the baby, or any other thing we do when we drive. Your choice could change these new statistics – we hope for the better.

One thing is for sure. That choice will likely determine whether I see a file on my desk with your name or the name of a loved one with the letter K beside it. The K stands for ‘killed’. Please, when you are behind the wheel, just drive.