Distracted drivers cause more than 5,000 crashes a year in Vermont. Now, authorities are using National Distracted Driving Month to draw attention to the dangers.
Norman James of Project RoadSafe lectures commercial truckers on the dangers of distracted driving. But his message applies to anyone who's ever gotten behind the wheel.
"We want to make sure that everybody who is out there on the highway understands that distraction is a menace," James said.
A menace that comes in many forms, from texting to tending to kids. Police say they've even caught drivers reading books, styling their hair and shaving. But cellphones consistently rank as the biggest distraction. National numbers show that at any given moment 10 percent of drivers are using their cellphones and 25 percent of all crashes are caused by drivers talking on their phones.
"Under state law you're prohibited from either receiving or sending data of any type," said Matthew Nesto, a Vermont DMV inspector.
Nesto says that includes texts, tweets, emails and web browsing. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn says it's a hard infraction to enforce.
"We lose too many Vermonters every year on our highways," Flynn said.
Between 2008 and 2012, distracted or inattentive drivers caused 42 percent of all Vermont's crashes and killed 22 people.
"And the number of near misses out on the highway are those kinds of near crashes that are never recorded and we know those happen every day," James said.
James says too many drivers zone out, forgetting they're operating 2-ton machines, with 300 horses guzzling high octane fuel. He says between GPS, fancy vehicle gadgets and cellphones, drivers are more distracted than ever before.
"We can do better in Vermont with our traffic safety initiatives," Flynn said.
Currently there are multiple bills before lawmakers, ranging from stiffer penalties for texting while driving to an all-out ban on cellphone use behind the wheel. The governor does not support a complete hands-free initiative, but the administration does endorse banning cell use in work zones.
Nine people have been killed on Vermont roadways so far this year. We had 21 deaths at this time last year.