SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and local officials want to remind Utahns about what they can do to limit distractions and keep roads safe.

“Our officers, that’s an ongoing thing that we see, not just here in Salt Lake City, but it’s something that is a statewide problem,” said Sgt. Mark Wian, with the Salt Lake City Police Department.

According to the Utah Highway Safety Office, there were 12 fatalities caused by distracted driving last year. John Gleason with the Utah Department of Transportation says this number could be higher.  

“Many of the crashes we look at, that we don’t have a clear-cut vision as to what happened, there is a level of distraction there that played a part. And I think distraction is probably the biggest challenge that we have facing safety on our roads in the future here,” Gleason says.

Utah Highway Patrol says many things can cause distracted driving, such as eating, talking to the passengers next to you, changing the radio – and one of the biggest ones, texting. When it comes to driving, experts say don’t try to multitask – keep your eyes on the road at all times.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that sending or reading text messages takes a person’s eyes off the road for five seconds, and at 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

“Even in two seconds, a lot can happen,” said Sgt. Wian. “Distracted driving doesn’t just revolve around the driver, that has an impact on others that are out on the roadway, be it that they are other drivers, people that are walking, bicycling.”

Cpl. Andrew Battenfield with Utah Highway Patrol says that when you’re distracted, you can end up getting too close to the car in front of you — increasing your chances of crashing, or even drifting out of your lane and sideswiping another car.

He encourages parents to talk to their teens about driving safely so they develop good habits early on. He says it’s important to look about eight-twelve seconds down the road to be aware of what’s going on at all times.

“We want you to drive focused on what you’re doing at the time, not to get distracted, and not to allow things outside of your control to control you,” Battenfield says.

Officials say some ways to limit distractions are to put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode and out of reach. If you do have an urgent phone call to make, they say it’s best to pull over somewhere safe to do so.

Sgt. Wian says that distracted driving is a huge issue that matters not just during this month, but every day of the year. Officials say that if you see distracted driving on the roads, report it if you can do so safely.