Photo via Jim Legans, Jr./Flickr.

Photo via Jim Legans, Jr./Flickr.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) have all stepped up efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving during the month of April, which is National Distracted Driving Month.

In 2016, NHTSA data shows that at least 3,450 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving, with 9% of fatal crashes reported as distraction-affected accidents.

For the fifth consecutive year, NHTSA is mobilizing law enforcement across the country to look out for — and penalize according to their states' laws — drivers who text or talk on cellphones behind the wheel.

The enforcement campaign (U Drive. U Text. U Pay) is supported by a $5 million national media buy. With multi-lingual television, radio and digital ads, the campaign is targeted to motorists aged 18-34—the population must likely to be killed in distraction-affected crashes. Moreover, handheld cell phone use while driving is highest among 15- to 29-year-old drivers.

Concurrently, the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and the National Safety Council have joined forces to help raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving not only to motorists, but also to first responders operating on the nation's roadways.

Together, the NSC and ERSI have launched #justdrive in honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. During April, the two safety organizations are focused on reminding drivers "to put away their phones and #justdrive," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC.

Paying attention behind the wheel is particularly vital when approaching and passing an emergency scene on the road where responders are working diligently to help injured victims and clear roadway obstructions. Distraction-free driving protects drivers, their passengers, other motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and first responders, who risk their lives to keep others from being injured or killed on the road.

"First responders and towing professionals are trained to handle roadway incidents with the utmost safety. But these brave men and women are at the mercy of the public, whose unsafe driving practices put them at risk of death and severe injury every time they answer these calls and set foot on the roadway," said Steve Austin, project manager for ERSI.