Embarking on a 12-city tour to raise awareness of the dangers and consequences that come with inattentive driving, the Texas Department of Transportation is advising drivers in Texoma and across to the state to avoid distraction when behind the wheel as the agency .


Despite the 2017 passage of a statewide law banning texting while driving and hand-held phone use, TxDOT said distracted driving continues to be a problem in the state, contributing to one in every five crashes on Texas roads.


“Our message is no longer just a public safety suggestion to urge Texans to avoid distraction while operating a vehicle – it is to remind them of the law that now forbids such activity,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said in a news release Wednesday. “One life lost is one too many and distracted driving is completely preventable.”


Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler said the department’s patrol officers encounter more distracted drivers than they’d like and such drivers often fail to realize how serious a risk they’re taking, personally and for others.


“Whether you’re car is moving at 30 miles per hour or highway speed, you’re moving faster than you’d think,” Eppler said. “Anytime you take your focus off the road you’re still traveling a considerable distance and if you’re not paying attention, that can give you far less time, even no time to react to changes or hazards.”


TxDOT said the statewide ban on texting and driving may be having an impact on public safety and pointed to data reporting a six-percent drop between the 12 months preceding the law’s enactment and the 12 months that followed.


Eppler said while cellphones are often looked at as the biggest distraction, and everything from the radio to the people in the car can take a driver’s attention away from critical driving tasks.


“In order to drive safely you’ve got to drive defensively and you can’t do that if you’re trying to do something other than driving,” Eppler said.


TxDOT kicked off its “Head’s Up, Texas” campaign in San Antonio on Tuesday, and the traveling tour seeks to educate Texans’ about distracted driving and includes virtual reality simulations to drive home the severity of the issue. A list of cities included on the tour was not immediately available Wednesday.


TxDOT reports that since November 8, 2000, at least one has person has died on Texas roads each day. Drivers are encouraged to help end the the streak.


Drew Smith is a reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.com.