Mark Cady used to be like many drivers. He didn’t think much at all about being on his phone while behind the wheel. He’s a contractor. Calls and texts came in incessantly, and his phone-based GPS was constantly in use.

Now he doesn’t, and he has a tough message for anybody who thinks it’s OK. “Put down the phone. You are killing us,” he said.

Cady’s stance changed abruptly last summer after he nearly “wiped out” a pedestrian. Then came the life-changing moment of July 11 when Hugh Skanes-Cady, his husband and partner of 29 years, was killed in a crash.

Skanes-Cady was returning to his job at NorthstarMLS, where he was the rules and regulations administrator for the information service used by real estate agents. He was on his motorcycle in a construction zone on Hwy. 280 at Energy Park Drive when another motorist hit him from behind. The State Patrol is still investigating the midafternoon crash. Cady says a witness told him that the driver was going fast, had his head down and didn’t look up until he hit Skanes-Cady. The witness said Skanes-Cady bounced off the driver’s windshield.

“Talking, texting, I don’t know, but he was not paying attention,” said Cady. Skanes-Cady was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center and died 12 days later.

At any given moment in America, more than 660,000 motorists are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Until July 11, Cady was one of them.

“I was too tied up in my electronics to be a full and careful driver,” he said. “I made an effort to drive without my phone, and let me tell you, it’s really hard to do. It took a lot of effort, but I’ve been diligent ever since to leave the phone alone.”

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, a 30-day period when you’ll see all kinds of radio, TV, billboard and social media campaigns urging drivers to put down their phones and electronic devices and pay attention to the task of driving. And for good reason.

In 2014, 3,179 people nationwide were killed in distraction-affected crashes, and 431,000 people were injured. Distraction-affected fatal crashes accounted for 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation, 18 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all motor vehicle crashes, according NHTSA.

Distracted driving contributed to 7,666 injuries and 74 deaths in the state last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Those numbers are likely underreported.

Skanes-Cady’s death was a wake-up call for many of his husband’s co-workers at NorthstarMLS. Together, they launched an effort to raise awareness about the widespread and dangerous behavior that’s practiced brazenly and surreptitiously. Called Drive Focused, the goal is to have 5,000 drivers pledge to put away their phones while driving, pull off the road if a call or text cannot wait, and avoid all other kinds of distractions. So far, 1,036 people have signed on.

“There’s a lot of temptation when we get behind the wheel, to respond to that text, tweet or e-mail, or to answer that call when we should be focusing on driving,” said Ryan White, communications manager for NorthstarMLS. “The goal of Drive Focused is to simply encourage and remind everyone to drive more safely. It’s unfortunate that it often takes a senseless tragedy to someone you know before it really sinks in with people.”

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