McEntee: Hey, Utah drivers, want to talk or text? Pull over
Under Utah law, no one is allowed to text a message while driving. So why do I see motorists every day staring down, slowing or swerving in traffic, then snapping up their heads when they finally realize they're about to hit something?
It's infuriating that teenagers and, worse, grown men and women are so selfish, or stupid, as to text behind the wheel. Do they have a sense of urgency about picking up items at the store on the way home? Setting up a meeting? Just chatting?
Tell that to the little kid who might dart into the street, or the pedestrians in the crosswalk, or the driver right ahead who'd rather not be rear-ended and wind up hurt or dead.
It's called distracted driving, whether talking or texting. Two University of Utah psychologists have described it as inattention blindness.
Either way, it's a phenomenon that, studies have shown, is as dangerous as driving drunk. Talking can interfere with visual or audio cues that ordinarily would help you prevent a crash.
Texting is even more dangerous because your manual, visual and cognitive abilities can be impaired. Sending or reading a text typically takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds and, at 55 mph, that's like driving more than the length of a football field blindfolded, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, http://www.distraction.org.
Under Utah law, texting is forbidden behind the wheel, as are sending data, reading a text, using an app or looking at an image. It's OK to make or receive a call and to use GPS navigation even for drivers under 18.
Some states, such as Florida, have no limitations on talking or texting. On the other hand, California bans talking or texting on hand-held devices for all drivers but allows hands-free calls.
The Utah Highway Patrol reports that six people were killed in texting-related crashes between 2006 and 2010, and more recent statistics are being evaluated.
On Wednesday, a man was charged with automobile homicide in the September death of a Vernal pedestrian. According to the charges, Jeffery Bascom, 28, was texting while driving.
In 2010, 3,092 people nationwide were killed in accidents involving a distracted driver; about 416,000 were injured. And 11 percent of drivers under age 20 were involved in distraction-related fatal crashes, the website reports.
I drive to work on the freeway, and pretty much every day I'll see some guy in a giant pickup move up to my back bumper, stay for a while and then roar around me, phone to ear. And that's not the only distracted driving I've seen. Twice now I've seen women on the freeway, apparently steering with their knees and eating from a bowl with a spoon. Seriously.
If Utah lawmakers won't impose tougher driving rules about texting, phoning and possibly dining, we should police ourselves. If you want to make a call or text on a hand-held phone, pull over and park. If you want to answer a call or text, pull over and park.
It could save your life and mine.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.