By Rolayne Fairclough
As I write this, three girls are in hospitals with serious injuries. They were hit on their way home from school by a driver who was sending a text message. The sad irony here is that this week also marked the date when Utah's new teen driver cell phone ban went into effect.
We know from the Utah Department of Public Safety's "2010 Utah Crash Summary" that inexperienced teen drivers made up 8 percent of Utah's licensed drivers in 2010, and yet they were involved in 21 percent of all crashes that year. More specifically, teens were in 10,097 crashes resulting in 4,805 injured persons and 38 deaths.
Now, couple that with research from the University of Utah showing that drivers who talk on their cell phones handheld or hands-free are just as impaired as drunk drivers at the legal limit. There is no question that teens should not be allowed to use cell phones while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
One can only imagine why 50 percent of high school students who drive admit that they talk on the cell phone daily while driving. That number includes 61 percent of 12th graders. Perhaps it is because they see the rest of us doing it.
When lives hang in the balance, it is hard to rationalize why drivers of any age should be allowed to use cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. The driver mentioned above was 28, but his age did not make him any better equipped to notice and react to the girls crossing the street.
But we already know that. In fact, the U's research also showed that drivers who use cell phones have 18 percent slower reaction times while driving no matter their age.
Just as none of us wants to be the cause of injury or death, none of us transcends the risk of distracted driving. Parents, talk to your teens about the importance of this law, and while asking them to commit to it, be willing to make that commitment with them.
None of us is safe if even one driver is distracted.
Rolayne Fairclough handles media and government relations and community involvement for AAA Utah.