I generally don't send or read text messages while driving, and that's a good thing for the other motorists and pedestrians I share the road with.
My typing is terrible and I don't control my car so well either.
That was pointed out by Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol, who rode along with me and observed my driving behavior Thursday as I made my way down a 25,000-foot long straightaway in the Valleyfair parking lot. It was a closed course so there was no danger to the public.
The exercise was staged by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to allow members of the media to experience what really happens when drivers pay attention to their phones and not the road. The event also was used to announce next week's campaign in which law enforcement will be out looking for distracted drivers.
My instructions were drive at 30 miles per hour through orange pylons that represented a street with an 11-foot wide lane, similar to what a driver would see on a major arterial or city street. Nielson, riding shotgun, gave me the command to send a text message to somebody saying "Pick up milk" and another message saying "I miss you."
My messages came out in gobbledygook and I had to correct the wheel alot. And while I didn't topple any of the cones, I came within inches of them on occasion.
"That could have been a parked car or a pedestrian," Nielson pointed out. "You had a lot lane swerving."
The point was it only takes seconds for a texting driver to drift into danger. Statistics from the Department of Public Safety show that distracted drivers account for 25 percent of all crashes in Minnesota, and 64 deaths and 234 serious injuries.
"Don't make your trip home a thrill ride," said Bruce Gordon of the Department of Public Safety. "Make sure you keep people in your car safe and those on the road safe by not texting and driving."
All next week, law enforcement will be out looking for distracted drivers and telltale signs that come with it, namely drivers peering down in their laps, erratic speeds, improper lane changes and failing to signal.
As a reminder, the law makes reading, composing or sending emails or text messages illegal. It's also against the law to access the Internet while a vehicle is in motion or part of traffic, including stopped at a traffic light.
Drivers with a permit or provisional driver's license are not allowed to be on the phone while driving, except to call 911 for an emergency.
Last year, 3,200 drivers were issued citations for violating the state's texting and driving law. The fine runs between $125 and $145.
"You might think you are just glancing down to a text a quick message, but it only takes a few seconds to drift out of your lane, crash into another car and endanger lives around you,' Nielson said. "Those few seconds can cause a chain reaction, creating a lifetime of heartache for more people than you can ever imagine."