Police forces across Manitoba and Manitoba Public Insurance are cracking down on drivers who text behind the wheel.

They have launched an awareness program that will be accompanied by "elevated enforcement" by police to educate drivers, especially those between 16 and 25 years old, of the dangers of texting or using cell phones while driving.

MaryAnn Kempe, vice-president of community and corporate relations for MPI, said since 2005 there have been more than 160 fatalities on Manitoba roads linked to distracted driving.

mpi and Manitoba police crack down on distracted drivers

Manitoba police forces and MPI are launching a joint campaign that includes extra enforcement and public education to crack down on distracted drivers. (CBC)

She said that's an average of 25 deaths a year, each one preventable.

Kempe said distracted drivers are 23 per cent more likely to be involved in an accident.

And that the average time it takes to send a text is 4.6 seconds.

She said that doesn't sound like much, "but when you stop and actually experience it," she said, pausing for several seconds to make the point, "You begin to realize that 4.6 seconds is a significant amount of time."

Kempe said a vehicle can go a considerable distance in that time.

"In 4.6 seconds, a driver driving 90 kilometers an hour could pull out their phone, type out three or four words, and travel from one end to the other of our new Investors field," she said, referring to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new stadium.

Kempe said MPI has also partnered with commercial driving schools, where approximately 12,000 teens are enrolled.

Distracted driving a 'loaded gun'

Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis said distracted driving is deadly.

"I have no sympathy for anyone who we catch using the cell phone, being distracted, when they are on the roads," he said. "It's not different really than holding a loaded gun at somebody's head."

Clunis said there is no excuse for it.

"None of us are that important that we can't leave that phone while we are in the vehicle," he said. "The world will not stop turning if we don't answer the phone while we are in the vehicle. People need to get that message clearly."

Kempe said MPI will put an additional $140,000 towards funding four police officers to enforce the message about distracted driving.

"People are … thinking, 'I am at a stop sign, it doesn't count if I am texting.'"

She said MPI is asking teens to pledge they won't text behind the wheel.

"What we are asking those teens, is to make a commitment … that they are not going to text and drive, that they are not going to use their cellphone."

The enforcement campaign, running through the month of November, involves nine police agencies in the province, including RCMP, Winnipeg, Brandon, Winkler, Morden, Altona and Dakota Ojibway police services.

It will be supported by a public awareness campaign on radio, television, and social media.