Utah County roads have a bad reputation among local and visiting drivers, despite decreasing numbers of traffic accidents.
In Provo more than 1,300 accidents occurred last year, according to records released by UDOT. This is the lowest number of accidents within the last five years. Utah’s text-messaging law was updated last year and is praised for improving traffic mishaps.
The first Utah text-messaging law went into effect in 2009. The 2014 update also included any handling of cell phones while driving. Following the 2014 update, cell phone-related accidents fell from 140 to 126 during that 12-month period according to handsfreeinfo.com.
Corey Norman, the Deputy Mayor at Provo City, said the law update is a significant piece of a larger puzzle to prevent distracted driving. He also mentioned there is more education taking place in high schools as well as a few local high profile deaths because of texting that could have had a great impact on the community.
Distracted driving made up 13 percent of the traffic accidents in Provo since 2010. That is more than driving while intoxicated, aggressive driving and drowsy driving combined related accidents combined.
Distracted driving can be visual, manual or cognitive. For instance, taking eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and mind off of driving. Texting while driving is considered the most dangerous because it includes all three distractions. Cell phones, texting, eating, in-vehicle technology and passengers can also take a driver’s attention from the road.
Despite the decrease of accidents in Provo, distracted driving is still a major problem. The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), reported a significant increase between the percentage of drivers text-messaging from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014. NOPUS is conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, provides nationwide data on driver electronic device use.
Approximately 660,000 drivers use cell phones or manipulate electronic devices while driving, a number that hasn’t changed since 2010 according to NOPUS.
The student demographic at BYU is among the majority when it comes to distracted drivers.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 27 percent of distracted drivers in fatal traffic accidents are in their 20s.
Utah has a primary law against texting and a secondary law for being caught talking on a hand-held device. A primary law gives officers authority to pull over and cite someone they witness in violation to the law. Texting and driving is a misdemeanor and could mean up to three months in jail and a $750 fine. If the driver causes injury or death the charge could become a felony with a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison or more.
Wyoming and Idaho have similar laws. In total, there are 39 states throughout the nation who have primary laws against texting.
Many prominent companies have launched campaigns to help drivers stay focused on the roads. AT&T launched the campaign It Can Wait throughout the U.S. and now Mexico. Drivers can pledge not to drive distracted and download apps to their mobile devices which prevent outside interference.
California native Victoria Solorzano a senior studying psychology, would much rather drive the busy roads in California than the roads to and from campus. “I’ve almost been in many accidents than ever before due to people not staying in their lane. My assumption is they are texting or not paying attention to the road,” she said.
“In California no one is ever on their phone because it’s against the law. When I moved here several years ago I thought is was pretty sweet that the law was not the same here. Now I hate it. I know that a law passed recently about not texting while driving but it’s not followed. This is quite frustrating to me,” Solorzano said.
Handheld devices have been the leading problem for distracted driving in recent years, but new technology in vehicles could change that trend for better or worse.
“Selfishly, I would love to have something that gave me the peace of mind that my son picking up his phone in his car would not be an option for him,” Norman said.