Newschannel 6 Exclusive: Reckless On The Road

It's to blame for the deaths of nearly 5,500 Americans last year. Some law enforcement officials even say distracted driving is almost as bad as drinking and driving. While cell phones are the cause of many accidents, Newschannel 6 Lindsey Rogers found there are plenty of other things that can cause you to be reckless on the road. In this Newschannel 6 exclusive, we're taking a closer look at distracted driving and what you need to know to keep you and your family safe.

"He said, she didn't make it. It was the hardest minute, second of my entire life," Barry Payton said.

His daughter was a victim of distracted driving.

In January 2008, officials said, then 16-year-old Jaci Payton, was texting when she rammed into a fence on FM 2384 near the intersection of Byrd road.

"The back end hit, the front end went over, and she fell out and the car rolled over there," Payton said.

Now, Payton is on a mission to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

"I don't see any way in the world that you can concentrate on what you're doing and be a safe driver while you're talking on the cell phone," Payton said.

But, we found out distractions include much more than just cell phones.

"Someone eating in the car, breakfast wise, they're eating trying to get to school. They've got stuff in their lap, concentrating on that trying to eat it, maybe they'll spill something on the floor board reach down to grab it, swerve into the other lane not see a stop sign," Officer T.J. Vanderburg said.

Officer Vanderburg is part of the Wichita Falls Police Department Motors Unit.

He sees first hand just how dangerous not paying attention can be.

"I had a stop this morning about a kid who just didn't want to read a sign and drove through two do not enter signs. She said she was distracted from the food she was eating in the car," he said.

Someone else who watches the streets of Wichita Falls all in an effort to keep you safe, Newschannel 6 own Rob On The Road.

"It's very easy to spot someone who is distracted especially in the mornings whether they're putting on makeup, eating or talking on the cell phone. You watch these people drift in and out of lanes and get into situations that might cause them harm or other people," he said.

He may be on the phone, but, Rob On The Road brings you Texoma's only live traffic report, all while practicing safe driving.

"We of course use Bluetooth as far as our communication goes. Whenever there is a computer issue or problem I'll pull off to the side of the road and get it taken care of. That's what those hazard lanes are for," he said.

Distraction related deaths accounted for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2009.

Just in Wichita County, so far this year there have already been 611 crashes involving distracted drivers.

"I worked fatality accidents where it looks as though there is distracted drivers. Cell phones or food, I've worked accident where you'll go get the people out of the car and there is just piles of food in the floorboard as though they were trying to eat while driving," Officer Vanderburg said.

He said the most reckless drivers he sees on the road are teens.

"I would say that kids are easily distracted you know, you're younger, newer drivers," Vanderburg said.

16 percent of all drivers under age 20 involved in deadly crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.

Jaci, only had her licence a few months when her single car accident happened.

"It hurts me all over that our legislature and our government has took so long to act," Payton said.

One thing the state of Texas has done to try and keep kids safe is outlaw handheld devices inside school zones. But, is this measure working?

"In the school zones I really look for it every single day and they're hard to find. I don't know if they're seeing me and putting the cell phone down or whether everyone is complying but it's really hard to pull somebody over for that offense right now," Officer Vanderburg said.

"Believe it or not I think people take school zones a little more seriously than construction zones. You don't see too many people speeding through school zones and I think that's a wonderful thing," Rob On The Road said.

Officer Vanderburg said in a school zone or not, always pay attention.

"It's not just necessarily for yourself, but there are other people involved anytime you are distracted in the vehicle. I would strongly advise anyone who is in the vehicle to have their complete attention on the road at all times. It's very important not just for yourself but for the safety of children, for the safety of other drivers. If you're distracted someone else is at risk," he said.

It's important to not just focus on what you're doing but, what those around you are doing as well.

"That includes watching what everybody is doing. Use your rearview mirror use your side mirrors. Pay attention to the people around you.. And if you're aware of that individual that gives you an opportunity to try and react to what they're doing and try and possibly put yourself in a better position and maybe not encounter a traffic accident or something of that nature," Rob On The Road said.

Finally, a plea from a father who knows first-hand the risks and pain involved with being reckless on the road.

"Don't answer the phone. Pull over to a safe spot and then answer the phone or call it back. Don't answer the phone going down the road," Payton said.

While better laws and steeper fines are steps in the right direction, distracted driving is hard to enforce.

30 states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel.

At least eight states have passed laws barring drivers from using hand held cell phones.

Legislation is pending in congress to push all states to ban texting by drivers.

Lindsey Rogers, Newschannel 6