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Student to Student

by Lindsay Cooper , Park Record Intern

Utah has stepped it up. The penalty for texting and driving in Utah is the most severe in the nation; up to fifteen years in jail if an accident occurs while texting and driving. However, our state needs to dig one step deeper. Utah’s made a leap once, and now we need to leap again.

For most teens, responding to text messages or calls in the car is a "habit". Out of the eighteen states that have outlawed text messaging for all drivers, only nine states include novice drivers as part of those unable to text. Novice drivers meaning teenagers. Teenagers are already distracted while driving. Between switching music and seeing friends on the road, adolescents simply aren’t mentally aware when driving. Texting, it seemed, created a worse problem. It requires the full attention of the texter; what if I don’t get this message off in the next five seconds?! Will he think I don’t like him? OMG!

Proving that drivers, especially teenagers, are texting while driving has proven to be an extremely difficult task. The intention behind the law was wonderful, but the game plan? Not so much. In order for the claim to hold up, the police officer needs to be able to see exactly what is happening on a driver’s cell phone. And the probability on that is slim to none. My suggestion? Cell phone usage while driving needs to be banned.

Now that texting while driving is officially illegal in the state of Utah, the legislatures primary focus needs to be getting the state to a point where the use of cell phones are completely illegal. Speaking on a cell phone is only an offense if the driver is committing a moving violation while on the phone and the punishments are listed under the subsection of "careless driving".

But it isn’t the act of holding a cell phone up to one’s ear while driving that is distracting or dangerous. It is the actual conversation itself. The attention of a driver is completely taken while talking on the phone, carrying on a conversation with a passenger is difficult enough let alone trying to speak to an outside party. Reaction times slow down. Traffic congests. Drivers suffer from inattention blindness. Those drivers who are talking on cell phones are more impaired than drivers who are driving under the influence.

Only six states have hands-free laws, while no states completely bans cell phone usage by all age groups. Certain segments of a state’s population are banned from using cellular devices while driving, including novice drivers and bus drivers. And the rest of the population? Untouched.

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But the legislation cannot fix this alone. People need to be aware that talking on a cell phone, hands-free or not, is a dangerous and risky habit. People need to know that engaging in a conversation on a mobile device distracts the brain and delays reactions. People need to care about the safety of other drivers and their own personal safety. The motion to change the law will start with Utah’s population; once most don’t, no one will.

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