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Officers warn against distracted driving, try to curb dangerous habit

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This driver was issued a warning for reportedly searching for music on their phone while driving. This driver was issued a warning for reportedly searching for music on their phone while driving.

NEW HANVOER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, but New Hanover County officers say it is not something they focus on during just one month - distracted driving is something they focus on 365 days a year.

"It's a very high priority and [officers] write tickets for it every day," Sgt. Jerry Brewer, with the New Hanover County Sheriff's office explained.  

He said with newer technologies, like smart phones, it's becoming a growing problem nationwide.

"With everyone using smart phones, it's just really leading to more and more accidents," Sgt. Brewer said.

Riding along with him on Thursday, it didn't take long before our cameras spotted people texting and driving.  Sgt. Brewer said it's something they see a lot.

"For Wilmington, North Carolina you can sit and write tickets for using an electronic device all day long," he said.

But it's not just texting. Brewer said people will also use their phones to set up a GPS or play music, all of which are distracting and all of which could land you a ticket or worse.

"The sheriff's deputies and law enforcement in general, we see so many deaths and bad accidents, due to people not paying attention," said Sgt. Brewer.

In 2012, there were 140 deadly crashes across the state involving a distracted driver. During that same year, more than 23% of all crashes in North Carolina involved someone who was driving distracted according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

It's not just texting - talking on your phone, playing with the radio or even eating can all be distracting and potentially dangerous. 

"In that split second, [drivers' take their eyes off the road] things can go horribly wrong," said Sgt. Brewer.

He said in the state of North Carolina it is legal to text if you are stopped, but as soon as the light turns green and your car starts to move, you need to put the phone down.

He also said it is not illegal to talk on the phone while you drive, but if officers can prove it is impairing your driving or if it leads to a crash you could face charges for doing it.

Sgt. Brewer said it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use their phones at all while driving, unless it is an emergency.

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