One October afternoon, Leslie Guerrero was on her way to Taylorsville Redwood Campus for a class when she received a phone call from her sister: Their mother had been in a serious accident, and Leslie, who was taking the bus to school, was just minutes away from the crash scene.
“I saw the totaled car and asked for the bus driver to stop and jumped out,” Guerrero remembers.
Guerrero’s mother had been stopped at a light when a distracted driver rear-ended her car, propelling her car into the back of another car. Her injuries resulted in several months of physical therapy.
In Utah, the use of a handheld device while driving is illegal. Talking on the phone while driving is permitted if done via voice commands or with a hands-free device.
A first offense for texting and driving, a class C misdemeanor, comes with a maximum fine of $100. A texting violation that causes an accident that results in bodily harm is considered a class B misdemeanor, and other charges can also be filed against the distracted driver.
Abbey Eriksson, a spokesperson for Zero Fatalities, believes this law should be changed.
“Increasing the price penalty would help greatly. The law is not heavily enforced,” says Eriksson, noting teen drivers really need to be “cracked down on.”
According to Zero Fatalities, texting while driving is equivalent to driving with a blood-alcohol level that’s twice the legal limit. Additionally, the average amount of time a driver’s eyes are away from the road when viewing or sending a text message is about 4.6 seconds.
The Utah Department of Public Safety tracks crash summaries and reports that roughly 15 percent of all crashes in Utah in 2016 were due to cell phone distraction. Cell phones were also the number one distraction of crashes.
The first law forbidding the use of a handheld device while driving was enacted in 2007 as a secondary law. That same year, close to 1,200 crashes were attributed to cell phone distraction.
According to the latest DPS report, crashes involving drivers on cell phones have increased for six straight years. The agency says this data “may not state the true size of the problem, since the identification of distraction and its role in the crash by law enforcement can be very difficult.”
Salt Lake Community College student Sydney Hathaway spoke about the repercussions of distracted driving during the winter Student Speakers’ Showcase.
“You see it [people on their phones] every single time you’re in the car,” she says. “If you have to pull out your phone, do it while you’re stopped. It will still be there when you’re done driving.”
To stay safe and distraction-free on the road, Zero Fatalities has a few tips: never reach for anything in your car while driving, have a passenger answer your phone for you, and focus only on being behind the wheel.
Solo drivers may consider using a safe driving app, which holds all notifications, texts and calls while driving. Apple also added a Do Not Disturb While Driving feature for the iPhone, while Verizon has included a similar Driving Mode feature for Android devices.