For 19-year-old Phillip LaVallee, running countless miles over Minnesota roads helped make him one of the state’s top high-school distance runners and a talented college athlete.

The miles, the training and his life came to an abrupt end as he was running along a Wright County road in August 2013.

A distracted driver went over the center line, across oncoming traffic and onto the far shoulder and struck and killed LaVallee. In a matter of seconds, a driver’s choice to take their eyes off the road can have fatal consequences.

More than 300 law enforcement agencies statewide will be conducting extra distracted driving enforcement April 9-22 to protect Minnesotans from those deadly decisions.

The effort is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS). For LaVallee’s family, Phillip’s death created “Just Drive,” a call-to-action for Minnesotans to pay attention behind the wheel.

“Phillip's death was horrific but completely preventable. The pain of his absence is always present in our lives, and our family is forever incomplete,” said Greg LaVallee, Phillip’s father. “We ask Minnesotans to please take to heart how selfish it is to drive distracted. Phillip is forever running in our hearts, but all we have is memories. Being an attentive driver is a simple choice and will save lives."

Sheriff’s deputies, police officers and state troopers will participate in the extra distracted driving enforcement campaign.

Law enforcement uses overtime funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and distributed by DPS-OTS, to keep Minnesotans safe from the dangers of distraction.

“Enough is enough,” said Mike Hanson, OTS director. “We are such a plugged-in, always-on society that focusing only on the road while driving takes effort, but trying to multi-task behind the wheel takes even more effort. If you’re trying to do two things – like drive and text, or stream or post – you’re not focused on driving. Those decisions can have severe consequences, like the death of Phillip LaVallee. Please pay attention, and speak up if you’re with a driver who’s distracted.”

What follows are some statistics and facts from OTS:

• Texting citations climbed nearly 23 percent from 2016 to 2017.

• Distracted driving contributes to one in five crashes in Minnesota.

• Distracted driving contributes to an average of 59 deaths and 223 serious injuries a year (2012-16).

• During the 2017 distracted driving extra enforcement campaign, law enforcement cited 1,017 people for texting and driving. This was a two-week campaign compared to one-week campaigns in previous years.

• During the 2016 campaign, 972 people were cited for texting and driving.

• During the 2015 campaign, 909 people were cited for texting and driving. Minnesota’s “No Texting” law makes it illegal for drivers to read, send texts and e-mails and access the Web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. That includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign. The fines include:

• $50 plus court fees for a first offense.

• $275 plus court fees for a second and/or subsequent offense. If you injure or kill someone because of texting and driving, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

What follows are some tips to help do your part and join Minnesotans driving distracted-free:

• 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 a driver’s attention off the road.

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Photo courtesy of the Internet Public Domain