This editorial was first published in the (Utica) Observer-Dispatch, a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.

New York state troopers issued more than 15,000 tickets April 6-10 in a sweep targeting drivers using electronic devices, The Associated Press reported last week. About 2,000 of those tickets were for distracted driving.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said distracted driving was targeted because it too often leads to avoidable tragedies. So true.

And while April was designated as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, this is an issue that needs to be in the forefront for drivers — and passengers — every single time they climb into a vehicle.

One distraction could make it your last ride.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than eight people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes every day that can be attributed to distracted driving, defined as doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving.

When we mention distracted driving, most of us think of texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone. Both practices are illegal.

But there are many things that can cause driver distraction that aren’t illegal — ranging from eating and drinking beverages (especially hot beverages that could spill and cause further distraction) — to putting on makeup or holding pets on your lap while trying to drive.

Noisy, fighting kids — or anything else that might cause a driver to take his or her eyes off the road or hands off the wheel — are another problem.

So is loud music. Drivers not only have to see what’s going on in traffic around them, but they also need to hear it. Being unable to hear sirens of approaching emergency vehicles or other warning signals could lead to tragedy.

Texting, however, remains the biggest danger since it takes the driver’s attention away from the road more frequently and for longer periods than other distractions.

The National Safety Council says the average text distracts a driver a minimum of five seconds; at 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field without looking at the road.

The Council further reports that one out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.

Strict enforcement of the law might discourage this stupid activity, but education is best. The American Automobile Association says that all parents and guardians should be positive role models for the young drivers in their households and should talk to them about phone use while driving.

AAA reports that 77 percent of teens say that adults tell them not to text or email while driving, but they see their parents constantly doing it themselves.

Set an example.

Penalties aren’t pretty. Young and new drivers guilty of texting while driving will have their license suspended for 60 days on their first conviction, with a 60-day revocation for any additional conviction within six months after the initial suspension.

And texting-while-driving convictions will add five points to your license. Insurance companies don’t like that.

Of course, the penalty could be much worse.

You might die.

Operating a motor vehicle safely today is challenging enough given the increasing traffic.

Keep your eyes, hands and mind on the road.