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Dave Roepke, Published February 01 2011

Fargo police wonder: Are you getting it?

Fargo police began airing a television advertisement Monday that aims to discourage driving while texting, the second blast of a media blitz prompted by a string of fatal crashes last fall.

The commercial, which will air through the start of March, shows an adult driver texting while behind the wheel of a van as a 5-year-old boy plays nearby. The boy chases a ball onto the street, but the driver doesn’t notice. It ends just before the child is struck.

The ad, like the two television portions of the campaign that aired in November, is meant to grab attention, Police Chief Keith Ternes said at a news conference on Monday at City Hall.

“It does leave you with a sense of shock, somewhat speechless,” Ternes said. “It’s something that could happen any time, any day, in any neighborhood, right here in our community.”

About $8,000 of the Police Department’s budget for crime prevention will be used to buy air time for the spot, Ternes said. Crime Prevention Officer Tara Morris said production of the ad cost about $4,000.

Ternes said Fargo police doesn’t track how many crashes or citations are linked to texting, but research shows texting while driving is dangerous.

He said a 2008 AAA of North Dakota study found drivers are six times more likely to be in an accident when texting than when talking on a cell phone. Reaction times go down 35 percent if drivers are texting, and steering control is reduced by 91 percent, the study found.

Ternes said he supports a bill proposed in the North Dakota Legislature that makes texting while driving illegal and a primary offense warranting a traffic stop on its own.

“Now Do You Get It?” is the new name of the traffic-safety campaign launched by Fargo police after a string of accidents last fall that killed five people in a three-week period. The first push of the campaign – called “Are You Getting It Now?” – began in November.

Ternes said police considered the adjusted name an improvement and plan to continue a series of traffic-safety messages employing the same catchphrase. He said the next target for the ad series is still undecided.

During the first phase of the campaign, police had Craig Bohl, North Dakota State University’s football coach, provide the voice of a radio ad on traffic safety, though Bohl has a long history of speeding tickets.

The incident was referred to in the news conference. When a reporter jokingly asked if the driving record of the 5-year-old boy in the commercial was clean, Ternes replied, “He is about as beyond reproach as you can get.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535