BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Highway Patrol defines distracted driving in three ways:
- Visual Distraction -- Anytime you take your eyes off the road for any reason.
- Mental Distraction -- Taking your mind off of your immediate task of driving.
- Manual Distraction -- Taking your hands off the steering wheel.
Paul Cannette directs traffic in front of Biloxi High School and dodging distracted drivers is part of his routine.
"I've had a couple of close calls this week with myself, people not paying attention and trying to tell them to stop and they're either on their phone or looking away or whatever they may be doing and not stop," Cannette said.
The numbers back up the problem. A survey conducted by AT&T found 49 percent of commuters admitted to texting while driving and more than 40 percent called it a habit.
"I consider it just the same type of problem as drinking and driving," said Dr. Simal Patel.
Dr. Patel is an ER doctor at Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport and too often he has to deal with the results of distracted driving. Nationally, since 2015, more than 7,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 have been killed in traffic accidents. That's a number that hits home for Patel.
"The worst impact after a tragic injury that's due to distracted driving is telling the parents and their family members," Patel said. "It's devastating to face them in the eye and say your child had this grave injury that was caused by distracted driving."
To prevent injuries like Dr. Patel is talking about, Garden Park takes a message of stopping distracted driving to schools.
"The more and more we talk about it and get it out there the more and more we make a difference," said Naomi Sigman.
Sigman is a nurse at Garden Park and she said the reason why not to do it speaks for itself.
"There are nine people killed every day in the United States and 1,000 are injured from motor vehicle accidents from distracted driving," Sigman said.
Although using a phone is the first thing that comes to mind with distracted driving, it's not the only cause.
"I've seen people driving trying to light a cigarette and pull into a school at the same time," Cannette said.
A study of the causes of distracted driving found 12 percent is caused by cell phone use. Compare that to 62 percent credited to being lost in thought, which is as easy as thinking about where to go for lunch.
"It's kind of like highway hypnosis, they call it," Patel said. "Looking at the lines going by, they're flashing by and all of a sudden you're in a daze. When you're in a daze, you're not necessarily paying attention. Your mind is not there to make sudden actions if something were to come up."
When Paul Cannette isn't directing traffic and he's behind the wheel, he says the temptation is there to look at his phone or something else, but he's learned the temptation just isn't worth it.
"When you've almost been hit by a car several times you tend to take a look back and think, 'Wow, maybe I shouldn't do that,'" Cannette said. "If I was in their shoes, I wouldn't want someone doing that to me."
Tuesday at 10pm, WLOX News Now will continue the week long series on distracted driving with a look at the stories of victims of distracted driving.