Reaching down for an item that fell on the floor, turning around to settle the kids down, or picking up the cell phone for an incoming call – they all seem harmless, until a driver with their eyes off the road, leads to a crash.

For the first time, law enforcement across the state is extending the extra enforcement period to two weeks to conduct overtime patrols for distracted driving.

Running through April 23, more than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state will participate. The campaign is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS).

Southeast Minnesota regional law enforcement hopes the campaign will hopefully change habits and save lives.

Too many lives lost

Too many people are not making driving the number one priority behind the wheel.

• More than 86,000 crashes were distracted driving-related from 2011 to 2015, contributing to one in four crashes in Minnesota.

• Distracted driving contributes to an average of 65 deaths and 215 life-changing injuries a year (2011 – 2015).

• During the 2015 distracted driving extra enforcement campaign, law enforcement cited 909 drivers for texting and driving, an 80 percent increase over the previous year.

Distracted driving behaviors

Posting on Facebook, checking that box score or Googling information on a device while driving are all against the law under Minnesota’s “Use of Wireless Communications Device” statute, which is commonly referred to as the texting and driving law.

Distractions that could lead to a crash also include fiddling with controls for music, eating and drinking, children fighting or an adult passenger’s behavior.

Consequences of distraction

With Minnesota’s “No Texting” law, it’s illegal for drivers to read, send texts and emails, or access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. That includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign.

Penalties can include:

• $50 plus court fees for a first offense.

• $275 plus court fees for a second and/or subsequent offense.

If a person injures or kills someone because of texting and driving, they can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

Everyone asked to do their part

Law enforcement asks everyone to do their part and join other Minnesotans to be distraction-free while driving. Here are some tips:

• Cell phones — Put the phone down, turn it off or place it out of reach.

• Music and other controls — Pre-program radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and ventilation before traveling.

• Navigation — Map out the destination and enter the GPS route in advance.

• Eating and drinking — Avoid messy foods and secure drinks.

• Children — Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle and model proper driving behavior.

• Passengers — Speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior and offer to help with anything that takes the driver’s attention off the road.

Distracted driving education is a component of Minnesota’s core traffic safety effort, Toward Zero Deaths (TZD).

A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.