Drive Smart Arizona, a coalition of safety organizations, government bodies and businesses in the state, will have billboards in Phoenix and Tucson debuting Thursday urging drivers to stop risking their lives by texting and driving. The initiative is part of a campaign for Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a National Safety Council observance that takes place every April.

Members of Drive Smart Arizona and state dignitaries will unveil a billboard at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 17 at the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road. That will be followed by an event at the Arizona State Capitol, Senate building, Caucus Room One, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix, at 10:30 a.m. where victims of distracted driving will share their stories with state officials.

A national epidemic

“Texting and driving is a national epidemic and a behavior that needs to be changed,” said Jeremy Bethancourt, co-founder of Drive Smart Arizona and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineer’s Arizona Chapter. “At Drive Smart Arizona we want to reduce distracted driving in Arizona through our education initiatives.”

In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracting drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. Approximately 424,000 people were injured in these types of crashes, which is an increase from 421,000 people who were injured in 2012.

6,000 tickets a year

The Arizona Department of Highway Patrol says it issued nearly 6,000 distracted enforcement actions in 2014.

“We lost 35,300 people in 2015 in traffic crashes – the deadliest year on our roads since 2008,” said Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy for the National Safety Council. “When we are behind the wheel, we need to focus on the drive. No call, text or social media update is worth a life.”

In one series of billboards, a young girl is in danger of being hit by a car whose driver is texting. The billboard has the tagline, “Don’t Be the Last Thing She Sees…Stop Texting and Driving.”

Please visit learn more about distracted driving and how to join this organization.

About Drive Safe Arizona

Drive Safe Arizona is made up of a coalition of the following groups:  American Society of Safety Engineers, Arizona Chapter American Society of Safety Engineers, Southern Arizona Chapter American Society of Safety Engineers, ACTA Safety, Arizona Business Association, Kids' Chance of Arizona, Arizona Chapter National Safety Council, Farmers Insurance, Orchard Medical Consulting, Law Office of Bob Wisniewski, Arizona Division of Occupational Safety & Health, City of Phoenix and Sanderson Ford.