Few Utah drivers may be aware of the new restrictions meant to curb distracted driving that are set to be in place next week. Although texting while driving is already illegal in Utah, the new law -- passed this year -- clarifies restrictions meant to deter drivers from using their devices manually.
Beginning May 13, sending a text, instant message or email, recording or viewing video, entering data, dialing a phone number and accessing the Internet while driving will be against Utah law. Talking wirelessly, using voice recognition software and using a GPS will still be allowed.
Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said his office will work to inform residents about the law change when it first goes into place to get them accustomed to it. Soon after, however, he said officers will be vigilant with its enforcement.
"There have been so many accidents with distracted drivers, particularly as it relates to younger drivers," Edmunds said. "We have to make sure while we're driving that that is the most important thing we're doing at that time."
Using a hands-free device is allowed under the new law, such as a Bluetooth system that is integrated into a vehicle, although the U.S. Department of Transportation says that using hands-free communication is not significantly safer than talking manually on the phone while driving.
Violating these restrictions will amount to a class C misdemeanor moving violation with a maximum fine of $100. If the distracted driver causes injury to another person, the offense is upgraded to a class B misdemeanor.
Edmunds said it is the Sheriff's Office's duty to make sure the public is operating vehicles safely, since the use of electronic devices in cars has gone up dramatically in the last decade or so.
According to U.S. DOT, 3.328 people were killed in distraction-related crashes in 2012 and an estimated 421,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
"Operating a motor vehicle on public roadways is a privilege and it's something we should all take very seriously," Edmunds said. "If you're not treating [the vehicle] with the respect it deserves, you can kill or maim people."
Distracted Driving Facts (from the U.S. DOT):