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Beauty queen takes on distracted driving

A troubling new report is out about distracted driving.

The Consumer Reports survey has 63 percent of respondents under the age of 30 admitting to using a hand-held phone while driving. Thirty percent say they text while driving and 64 percent of those polled say they are not concerned about the problem; only 30 percent see it as a danger.

Those responses come despite the statistic that, in 2009, nearly 5,500 people were killed, and half a million more injured in crashes involving distracted driving.

Now, Consumer Reports and the Department of Transportation are teaming up to make sure teenagers know about the dangers.

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is visiting the Consumer Reports' New York headquarters Monday to unveil a joint project. It's aimed at helping parents and teachers fight a driving-while-texting trend that's spreading among young people.

Consumer Reports notes three deadly statistics:

-- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens.
-- Teens are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as other drivers.
-- And texting multiplies by 23 the risk of a collision.

One young woman affected by distracted driving is Miss South Dakota, Loren Vaillancourt, whose brother, 21-year-old Kelson Vaillancourt, was killed in an accident two years ago in South Dakota. Distracted driving may have been involved.

Vaillancourt has made awareness of distracted driving her personal crusade.

On "The Early Show" Vaillancourt said distracted driving is an issue, especially for young people.

"The reason why is it's a feeling of invincibility," she said. "When I was in high school and learning how to drive, I probably wouldn't admit it then, but I felt the same way. You think things like this will never happen to you. And believe me: If they can happen to me and my family, they can happen to you, as well.

"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill noted, "And it's not just a handheld phone. It's not just texting. There have been numerous studies that show listening to the radio, having a conversation, can be equally as distracting. Do they see those as distractions at all?"

Vaillancourt said, "Not really. That's something that really surprised me. I talk about texting and driving and cell phone usage. But I also talk about all forms of distracted driving. Especially if you combine them, it can be just as dangerous as anything else, as texting and driving, as well."

As for her brother, Vaillancourt says she believes distracted driving caused his death.

She explained, "My brother was an intern with the Fish and Wildlife Service in my hometown of Huron, S.D., and he and another intern were going out into the field to count some water fowl the day the accident happened. It was in broad daylight. My brother was wearing his seat belt in the passenger seat. The driver of the vehicle had stopped at a stop sign, and then proceeded to pull out in front of a semi. And my brother was pronounced dead the next day due to brain injuries."

Kelson Vaillancourt is the subject of one of the Faces of Distracted Driving videos released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Loren Vaillancourt is featured in the video talking about her brother.

She says in the video, "He was my best friend. ... My brother's accident was 100 percent preventable. It was my job to be his voice. No matter who you are, if you're young, if you're old, if the person (driving) your vehicle is texting and driving or doing something they're not supposed to be doing, speak up. Tell them how concerned you are, not only about your safety, but also theirs."

Vaillancourt told Hill raising awareness of this issue seems to be making an impact.

She said, "I talk to a lot of high school students and a lot of middle school students about it. Thousands of students, and truly, I think they're really starting to get the point. And it's about time."

Vaillancourt is advocating for nationwide legislation against distracted driving.

"There needs to be some sort of strong legislation against distracted driving, especially texting and driving," she said. "That is proven to be, you know -- you're 23.3 times more likely to be in an accident if you are texting and driving -- so that is, you know, just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than drunk driving. We need to take it seriously."

Hill remarked, "All it takes is a split second for you to remove your eyes from the road."

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