Editor's note: Following is a column provided by the American Automobile Association.

AAA Wisconsin urges drivers to put down their phone and avoid distractions when behind the wheel, especially during April's Distracted Driver Awareness Month.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Research:

• Drivers who text are up to eight times as likely to be involved in a crash. Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that is equivalent to driving the length of a football field — blind.

• Drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times as likely to be in a crash.

• Although hands-free, voice-based technology still causes distractions. Drivers can be mentally distracted for as long as 27 seconds after using voice-based technology to dial, change music or send a text message. At 25 mph, drivers travel the length of nearly three football fields during this time.

"Most drivers believe that if their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel, then they are focused on the drive," said Nick Jarmusz, Midwest director of public affairs for AAA.

"But research proves that there are hidden dangers when using a cellphone or in-vehicle technology. Mental distractions last longer than you think, and can cause a dangerous crash," he said.

Despite the risk, drivers increasingly report using their phones while behind the wheel. Nearly half of drivers report recently talking on a hand-held phone while driving. Nearly 35 percent have sent a text or email.

This behavior is in contradiction to the fact that nearly 58 percent of drivers say talking on a cellphone while driving is a serious threat to their personal safety, while 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, six out of 10 crashes involving teens are the result of driver distraction.

In 2017, 297 people died in crashes involving distracted teen drivers.

AAA offers the following tips for avoiding distractions:

• Don't text and drive. Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions — including those built into the vehicle — while driving.

• Know where you're going. Pre-program your GPS and adjust seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before putting the car in motion.

• Secure items. Properly secure children and pets, and store loose possessions and other items that could roll around in the car.

• Snack smart. Avoid messy foods that can be difficult to manage.

Contact: 715-833-9207, dan.holtz@ecpc.com