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Don't __________ and drive
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 5/5/2009 12:14 AM

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A car accident Saturday near Lake Zurich, in which a driver struck and killed a motorcyclist who had stopped at a yellow light, has grabbed a lot of attention - because the woman at the wheel reportedly was painting her nails at the time.

It's a horrifying scenario for everyone involved. Anita Zaffke of Lake Zurich, the 56-year-old motorcycle rider, was killed. She was wearing a helmet, but it wasn't enough to protect her from the force of the crash, which threw her several hundred feet.

Motorist Lora Hunt, 48, of Morris, stopped to help Zaffke, then later told officers she hadn't seen Zaffke stopped at the light and that she had been painting her fingernails.

It seems so outrageous that it's hard to imagine there are lessons here for the rest of us. Until you try these substitutes for the last three words in the above paragraph: eating lunch, talking on the phone, changing a CD, programming the GPS.

Those are common ways of multi-tasking while driving, and they are among the driver distractions that contribute to an estimated 25 percent of all traffic accidents, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Reading while driving, putting on makeup, shaving, watching movies, text-messaging - police patrolling suburban routes have seen all that, and more.

Are some activities worse?

Maybe, but they might surprise you. Some studies have shown operating the CD player is more dangerous than eating or using a hands-free phone, the NHTSA said. Dialing the phone is about on par with personal grooming or eating, but not as dangerous as reading or changing CDs.

Combining any of these with driving increases your risk of one day ending up in Hunt's shoes. It's a tragic reminder we all should heed as warm weather adds motorcycles, bicycles, kids and construction crews to the long list of potential roadway hazards.

Though many cities, including Chicago, require drivers' phones to be hands-free, the mental distraction alone is enough to cause accidents, the NHTSA said. Hands-free phoning appears to be riskier than simply talking to a passenger, perhaps because the passenger is able to help warn of driving hazards, the agency said.

The message is clear: Pull over to talk, especially for a lengthy or involved phone call.

We support a proposal to ban text-messaging while driving. It's among seven bills before the state Legislature seeking to define and penalize distracted driving. Several list activities that would be prohibited: text messaging, reading any material including a map, and any personal grooming task.

But don't count on the legislature to define all the misdeeds that can get you in serious trouble while you're driving.

Ultimately, drivers have to make sure their minds are fully on their driving. Then their hands will be, too.