Utah’s distracted driving law focuses on texting
Distracted driving, especially texting behind the wheel, has seen a sharp rise in Utah over recent years, posing severe risks to all road users. This article delves into the statistics, legal consequences, and preventive steps surrounding this pressing issue in the state.
It was a snowy morning in Salt Lake City. Emily, a teacher in her 30s, was driving to school, looking forward to another day of teaching her enthusiastic third graders.
As she approached a familiar intersection, her car was suddenly T-boned by a speeding vehicle. The driver of the vehicle was a teenager, engrossed in a text conversation with a friend, completely oblivious to the fact that the traffic light had turned red.
The impact of the collision left Emily paralyzed.
Regrettably, stories like Emily’s are not uncommon but serve as a chilling reflection of the rise of distracted driving in Utah. For those injured due to such negligence, understanding Utah’s legal backdrop is essential. This article explores the risks, legal implications, and remedies to distracted driving in Utah.
What is distracted driving?
At its core, distracted driving involves any activity that diverts attention from driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distractions can be categorized as:
- Visual: Taking eyes off the road.
- Manual: Taking hands off the wheel.
- Cognitive: Thinking about something other than driving.
Texting while driving is particularly dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions. However, even turning on the radio, talking to a passenger, or eating a sandwich can lead to a distracted driving accident.
How common is distracted driving in Utah?
Distracted driving has been on the rise in recent years, and Utah is no exception to this disturbing trend. An examination of Utah's crash data from 2017-2021 provides a comprehensive insight into the gravity of this issue:
- Crashes and casualties: In the span of these four years, an astounding 27,514 distracted driving crashes were reported in Utah. Even more concerning is that out of these, 15,004 were injury crashes. Tragically, 83 individuals lost their lives in 74 separate fatal incidents that were directly attributable to distracted driving.
- Young drivers at risk: Crash data shows that drivers under the age of 20 were involved in 31% of distracted driving crashes – a figure higher than any other age group.
- Perilous days and times: Distracted driving doesn't discriminate by day or time, but certain patterns have emerged from the data. Fridays have seen the highest percentage of fatal distracted driver crashes, with Saturdays and Tuesdays trailing close behind.
- The riskiest hours: If you're out on Utah's roads, it might be prudent to exercise extra caution between 12:00 p.m. and 7:00 pm. A significant 48% of all fatal crashes occur during this window. More specifically, the time bracket of 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. has been identified as the most hazardous. This period, often marked by school releases and end-of-day work commutes, sees a spike in road traffic and, unfortunately, distractions.
Utah’s distracted driving law
Utah’s distracted driving law can be found in Utah Code Section 41-6a-1716.
Under the law, a person may not use a handheld wireless communication device for text messaging, dialing phone numbers, or engaging in any other form of manual data entry while operating a vehicle.
The law does NOT prohibit an individual from using a wireless communication device to do any of the following:
- Engage in voice communication
- View global positioning or navigation device
- Contact emergency services
- Report a safety hazard
- Report criminal activity
- Operate hands-free or voice-operated technology
According to research by the Utah Department of Public Safety and Utah Department of Transportation, 24 percent of Utahns admitted to texting while driving in the last 30 days. Those same Utahns believe 79 percent of other drivers have used their cell phones while driving.
Penalties for distracted driving in Utah
An individual convicted of distracted driving is guilty of:
- A class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $100, or
- A class B misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail if the individual inflicts serious bodily injury as a result of being distracted or has a prior conviction for distracted driving
Distracted driving and civil lawsuits
Apart from criminal consequences, distracted drivers may also face civil lawsuits.
Motor vehicle accident lawsuits are typically based on the legal concept of negligence.
In Utah, negligence is defined as the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to someone else on the road. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was using a cell phone (or engaging in some other distracting activity) when the accident occurred, they can generally establish negligence.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating one of Utah’s distracted driving laws, the defendant will be presumed negligent, and the defendant will have the burden of proving that they didn’t cause the accident. This is referred to as “negligence per se.”
Steps to take (and avoid) after a distracted driving accident in Utah
The steps you should take following an accident caused by a distracted driver are similar to the steps you should take after any car accident, with a couple of differences:
- Step 1. Obtain medical help for anyone who needs it (including yourself). Utah requires drivers to render “reasonable aid” to anyone injured in a motor vehicle accident. This means calling 9-1-1 if someone is hurt.
- Step 2. Call the police. The police will conduct an investigation and file a police report. You might be surprised at what an officer is able to find out about the at-fault driver’s actions in the moments before the crash.
- Step 3. Gather any evidence you can find. Distracted driving can be difficult to prove, so it’s important to obtain any evidence that might be available. If there are witnesses, take down their contact information. Similarly, make note of anything the at-fault driver or their passengers say that might implicate them.
- Step 4. Find an experienced personal injury attorney. Your lawyer will be able to conduct their own investigation into the accident. This may include requesting the other driver’s phone records to prove they were using their phone at the time of the accident or deposing the passengers to find out what they observed the driver doing in the moments before the crash.
- Step 5. Avoid talking about the accident on social media. One of the first things a defense attorney will do is review all of your social media accounts for information that may weaken your case. The wisest course of action is to avoid posting about the accident altogether.