PIERRE, S.D.-Many South Dakota drivers are putting down their cell phones when on the road, and therefore reducing the number of crashes.
According to reports from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, after seeing a gradual increase in distracted driving crashes from 2008 to 2015, 2016 numbers hit a six-year low. From 2015 to 2016, the number of crashes involving a distracted driver dropped more than 100 from 1,125 to 1,010-the lowest number since 883 distracted driving crashes in 2010.
The decrease could be a result of multiple campaigns run by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety addressing the dangers of texting and driving, said Director of South Dakota Office of Highway Safety Lee Axdahl. The campaigns can be seen across the state on billboards and heard on radio advertisements, so they're hard to miss, he said.
Additionally, Axdahl said that as time progresses, drivers of all ages recognize distracted driving always has "potentially bad outcomes."
"Most folks understand that distracted driving is bad, but they also believe that while the majority of the drivers are bad at texting and driving, they are good at performing this dangerous task," Axdahl said. "It's a real disconnect between reality and a dangerous habit that we need to constantly reinforce, especially with our younger drivers."
But, while the number of crashes in 2016 were low, the number of fatality crashes as a result of distracted driving hit an eight-year high.
Seven fatalities were a result of electronic use behind the wheel in 2016, according to reports, with the previous high coming in 2015, with six. The last year South Dakota reported zero distracted driving fatalities was in 2009.
The correlation between the total number of crashes and fatal crashes as a result of distracted driving could be misleading, Axdahl said, as it is difficult for officers to confirm when a person is using their phones behind the wheel.
For example, he said, if a person was glancing at their cell phone and rear-ended a vehicle at a stop sign, they often wouldn't admit to the officer they were texting.
But, ultimately, Axdahl said the main goal is to continue educating drivers of all ages - but especially young people - about the dangers of distracted driving and continue the downward trend of related crashes.
A lot of that educating is on the shoulders of parents.
"Even if those lessons are learned at a young age, it can all go out the window if the parents text and drive with young passengers," Axdahl said. "Parents need to set the safe example and stick to it and then reinforce the message when their children get behind the wheel."