McBride: Texting while driving should be a first-class offense

By By Samantha McBride

By Samantha McBride

Cell phone use while operating a vehicle is not currently regulated or restricted under Utah laws, but maybe citizens, law enforcement officials and state law makers should consider making the change.

In 2006, the U psychology department conducted a study which found drivers using cell phones could be just as impaired as someone driving while intoxicated.

This point was illustrated July 23, when two people were seriously injured after a 31-year-old woman ran a red light while text messaging on her phone. The crash occurred around midnight at the intersection of 800 South and 200 East.

Distracted driving was a key factor in causing this accident.

“Even being on a cell phone is distracting, let alone taking your eyes off the road to type a message-it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Bedard.

While U students may realize that texting and driving is a dangerous-even deadly-combination, many of still send texts while driving. This is exactly the attitude that can set the scene for future accidents. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for there to be a realization of the responsibilities and risks associated with driving.

What many people may not realize, according to David Strayer, a psychology professor involved in the 2006 distracted driving study, is that an adolescent on a cell phone has the reaction time of an average 70-year-old person.

A study conducted in 2002 by Harvard University found that 1 in 20 car accidents are caused by cell phones, resulting in 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries annually.

“The message…should be obvious, but we see it time and time again because people just aren’t getting it,” Bedard said. “You can’t text and you can’t drive at the same time.”

Cell phone use while driving might not be illegal in Utah, but you can still be ticketed and fined for careless driving if your cell phone use impairs your driving ability. Utah law defines careless driving as “committing a moving violation, other than speeding, while distracted by use of a hand-held cell phone or other activities not related to driving.”

Unfortunately, distracted driving in Utah is only a secondary offense. The effects of distracted driving are the same as driving under the influence of alcohol. Those who condemn drunk driving should reject texting while driving as well. The two are far too similar.

Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington have all enacted bans on texting while driving. Utah should follow suit by citing those who endanger everyone around them as a first-class offense when they divide their focus behind the wheel by texting.

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