Many have legitimately wondered what has caused the sharp campaign for banning texting and driving in Utah. However, this attitude doesn’t appear to be just a Utah thing, it’s sweeping the nation. The New York Times reports that while other states have the latitude to treat negligent driving in many different ways, the state of Utah has decided to put sharp restrictions on the behavior to end the practice all together.
“The law ‘is very noteworthy,’ said Anne Teigen, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, an organization of state legislators. ‘They have raised the bar and said texting while driving is not just irresponsible, and it’s not just a bad idea — it is negligent.”
The New York times outlines a study done that shows talking on a cellphone while driving is as risky as driving with a .08 blood alcohol level — generally the standard for drunken driving — and that the risk of driving while texting is at least twice that dangerous.
All this research was motivated by an accident in Logan, Utah in 2006 that resulted in the death of two scientists on the way to work. A young man by the name of Reggie Shaw was texting his girl friend when he lost control of his vehicle and slammed into the vehicle carrying the scientists. The on duty officer could not figure out what could have been the cause of the accident, the whole thing appeared totally abnormal. 6 months later he received a court ordered Subpoena to obtain the phone records showing that Reggie had sent 11 texts in 30 minutes, one only seconds before he dialed 911. And a witness driving behind Reggie testified that he had swerved a number of times prior to colliding with the other vehicle.
Reggie who was serving and LDS mission in Canada was called home to a trial were he was tried for the negligent homicide of the two scientists. Reggie upon realizing the magnitude of what he had done chose, against the counsel of his attorney, to plead guilty to the charges so that he could make right what he had done.
The court mandated that Reggie’s record would be cleared if he served the sentence that the judge imposed. It included 30 days in jail, 200 hours of community service, and a requirement that he read “Les Misérables” to learn, like the book’s character Jean Valjean, how to make a contribution to society.
Utah law now says as of May 2009 that if a police officer catches a motorist texting while driving, the motorist’s faces up to three months in jail, a $750 fine and a misdemeanor on their record. If a motorist causes an auto accident resulting in the injury or death of another, the penalty is a felony with a charge of a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.