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Utah Law Punishes Texters As Much As Drunks In Driving Fatalities 620

Posted by Soulskill
from the g2g-ran-ovr-sum-guy dept.
The NY Times reports on legislation in Utah which harshly penalizes people who cause fatal car accidents while texting. Instead of merely facing a fine, offenders may now get up to 15 years in jail — the same as drunk drivers. "In effect, a crash caused by such a multitasking motorist is no longer considered an 'accident' like one caused by a driver who, say, runs into another car because he nodded off at the wheel. Instead, such a crash would now be considered inherently reckless. 'It's a willful act,' said Lyle Hillyard, a Republican state senator and a big supporter of the new measure. 'If you choose to drink and drive or if you choose to text and drive, you're assuming the same risk.' The Utah law represents a concrete new response in an evolving debate among legislators around the country about how to reduce the widespread practice of multitasking behind the wheel — a topic to be discussed at a national conference about the dangers of distracted driving that is being organized by the Transportation Department for this fall."
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Utah Law Punishes Texters As Much As Drunks In Driving Fatalities

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  • Actual risk? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:22AM (#29242041)

    Does anyone know if traffic accident rates have gone up in recent years?

    I haven't heard that they have. But if talking on a cell phone, or texting, while driving is really as dangerous as it seems, I would have expected accident rates to rise significantly.

  • This will work... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:27AM (#29242073)

    ...as it has worked in Canada. The punishment for this kind of crime in Ontario (Canada) is so severe that only fools even dare.

    On a side note, the punishment for street racing (going 31 miles above the limit), includes the following done on the spot:

    Your car being confiscated, getting fined about US$ 8,000 and having your license suspended for at least 60 days.

    Bottom line: It works. I hope those in Utah will see similar results.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:28AM (#29242085)

    Missouri just passed a law banning texting while driving ONLY FOR DRIVERS UNDER 21!!!
    How stupid is that? As if it's OK to willfully distract your attention while driving as long as you're of a certain age.
    Being in control of a two-ton projectile in public is a responsibility to be taken seriously. Far too few people do.

  • Re:Actual risk? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:42AM (#29242225)

    Yes, that have, SMS is now a bigger cause of crashes than DUI. I recently had to attend a defensive driving course and there were plenty of barcharts illustrating the rise in crashes due to idiots that think they can safely read and compose messages. The figures were qualified saying that their figures only included those that admitted to SMSing, so the reality could be much higher.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:44AM (#29242235)

    "In effect, a crash caused by such a multitasking motorist is no longer considered an 'accident' like one caused by a driver who, say, runs into another car because he nodded off at the wheel. Instead, such a crash would now be considered inherently reckless."

    Nodding off while driving is not an accident. If you are tired, stop the car and sleep it of. It is just as bad driving tired as driving intoxicated!

  • by pigwiggle (882643) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @08:53AM (#29242295) Homepage

    to received a lot of attention (here in salt lake) happened a few blocks from my home. I saw it driving to work. A young kid blew the light and t-boned a girl, killing her. The intersection had just been closed when I got to it. It was horrific. I asked my wife if she saw the accident on her way to work. She left 15min before me and, as it turns out, drove through that intersection minutes before the accident. Just by chance neither of us were there when it happened. The poor girl who was killed was just 19 - the stepsister of one of my wife's good friends. There was a PS campaign afterward. Her picture was on billboards all over the city. Whenever I saw one I thought of the kid who killed her, and how he would see them wherever he went.

  • by Al Dimond (792444) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:07AM (#29242407) Journal

    Wow; I'm amazed it actually got publicity. In Illinois a couple years ago a driver veered onto the shoulder while downloading a ringtone and hit and killed a cyclist. Almost nobody cared. Well, maybe if it had been a pedestrian or motorist killed people would have paid attention; people in America seem to think that cyclists are fair game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:07AM (#29242409)
    This isn't locking someone up for "a moment of misjudgement". It's locking them up for the safety of the greater public. If it's you getting locked up, you're getting locked up because you were an asshole with no regard for other peoples safety.

    It's going to be an utter failure as a deterrent as well

    It'll become a fantastic deterrent the moment the first person gets jailed under this law.

  • by cavehobbit (652751) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:08AM (#29242431)
    Oops, sorry about that. I was texting while testing my MAC-9 sub-machine gun next door. Sorry about your family re-union, I had no idea other people were behind those shrubs what with the music and all. Is that fine based on each occurrence or per body? Do you take Amex?
  • Re:This will work... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MetalPhalanx (1044938) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:15AM (#29242481)

    Ummm? I don't think it worked that well. I live in Ottawa, and in the past week I've almost been clipped by stupid drivers on cell phones three times. It'd be humorous, except it happens at least once a week. Throughout this summer, I've heard street racers a good 4-6 times, which I'll admit is lower than it used to be but it's still going on.

    We have the laws, and some of them can be quite harsh, but they don't get enforced enough. It's like the no-smoking-within-9-meters (of a public entrance) law. It's there, it has penalties, quite harsh compared to the crime, but I've watched cops stop and light a cigarettes right beside the signs saying not to smoke there.

    My bottom line: Harsh penalties can make people think twice about doing something dumb, but only if they're actually enforced. Of course, YMMV depending on what jurisdiction you live in.

  • by kannibal_klown (531544) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:23AM (#29242555)

    As someone who doesn't drive and has almost been runover several times when legally crossing the street by some damn idiot on his or her cell phone or texting I have no problem with this...

    Agreed. As a driver or pedestrian I've been in many close calls because some idiot was on their cellphone. The best is when they start yelling at ME because THEY ran the stop sign or red light without even knowing it.

    However on the flip side, I've also almost hit some pedestrians because they were talking on their cellphone and decided to cross illegally without looking to see that I'm already 1 car length away because their cellphone is obscuring their vision of me.

    Driving or walking, it's almost like cellphones are accident magnets.

  • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:52AM (#29242909) Journal
    Of course when VR overlay sunglasses come out they will have to pass another law...
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:54AM (#29242921) Homepage

    A couple times a month I see some idiot clearly not paying attention on the road and making dangerous decisions. The only clear pattern I've ever observed is that 9 times out of 10 it's someone on a cell-phone. Just yesterday some moron in a mini-van came close to merging right into me, and sure enough there was a cell phone next to his head. I've never noticed a pattern in car, gender, race, or bumper-stickers... but the person holding a cell phone up to their ear is a very clear pattern. I've never seen someone texting, so I have to believe it's rather rare.

    Unfortunately there's still no law in Minnesota against using a cell phone while driving. For some reason there's a ban on kids using a cell phone while driving, but apparently when you get older you gain a magical ability to drive and hold your cell phone at the same time. I believe most states are the same way.

    So if you ask me the big problem is just plain old cell phone use, not texting. Texting while driving is idiotic and should be illegal, but concentrating on it and increasing penalties to ridiculous 15 year jail terms while ignoring the obvious problem of people using cell phones while driving is equally foolish. According to http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html [ghsa.org] Cell phone usage while driving is not illegal in Utah.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @09:56AM (#29242933) Homepage

    ...and I think quite many are, but there's sane and insane ways of doing it.

    Sane:
    1. If it beeps, pick it out of your pocket or whatever without looking. This is no more dangerous than finding a breath mint or whatever.
    2. Bring it up to wheel height. Don't keep it in your lap so you really have to look down, it's too dangerous for more than a glance.
    3. If something happens, grab the wheel with your phone hand too. You can hold both, or in a real emergency let the phone drop.
    4. Glance-read like if you were looking at the GPS screen. You are able to do that right, or should we ban those too?
    5. When you reply, reply only with one hand. It's really useful for lots of things to be able to do that anyway.
    6. Reply only in brief. My three favorite responses are "k", "yes", "no" or any of the text shorthands like "lol", "ttyl".

    From my observations I'm a way safer driver than say anyone with kids in the back seat. But I guess I'm pretty screwed if I end up in one of those really inavoidable accidents, like the guy in the other lane doing a front-on-front collision with me or whatever. And I do understand why it's forbidden. I've noticed so many people that are writing a text message down in their lap, with both hands and apparently composing a novel while they're at it. But the only reason it's punished so hard on that fact that you sent a text at all is because that can verify that. "Your phone company records show that at 3:42 PM you send a text" unlike "At 3.42 PM you were busy fiddling with the radio or gps or kids or finding a mint". Then tough shit for you even if you did do it in a way that's perfectly reasonable.

  • by UziBeatle (695886) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @10:07AM (#29243061)

    I was up late last night and caught some episodes of 1000 Ways to Die, for the first time.
        Harsh show to watch but it is rather educational.

      Among the various ways people die was this:

      A young male idiot was driving his vehicle around whilst texting his girlfriend who
      was walking about someplace.
      According to the story they were 'texting' where he was to meet her.
      Eventually the primary idiot in the story arrived in some parking lot and continued to text his
    girly.

      She was texting him back and was much to busy to be bothered with looking side to side while doing so.

      Driving down one of the parking lot aisles primary idiot one runs right over his
    girly, apparently killing her quite dead.

      He never saw her and she apparently didn't' ever see him.

      Pretty sad huh? Hard to believe really but I can see it happening.

      I can recall in my own experience seeing IDIOTS walking about parking lots yammering on their phones.
      As a driver one always has to watch out for such. It appears from my observation of people
    they hardly ever turn their heads to watch for traffic whether talking on the hand set or texting.
      Talking about pedestrians here.

      It is a pity Darwin's law does not take these people out sooner and more thoroughly before they
    have a chance to breed.

      This 53 year old grump would love to see harsher penalties for drivers doing such. Go Utah , Go.

  • Re:Actual risk? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Faluzeer (583626) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @10:16AM (#29243145)

    Hmmm

    Over here in the uk, it is common practice for the police to request phone logs of motorists involved in serious accidents. There have been a number of successful prosecutions of drivers where the records have shown the motorists were either texting or on the phone at the time of the accident.

    As a motorcyclist I agree with this legislation, I have enough problems with drivers not seeing me due to them not paying enough care and attention to the road without adding texting to the equation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @10:33AM (#29243309)

    So, how are they going to prove that an accident is caused by texting? The last time you were in an accident, did you look to see what the exact time was? Was your watch / clock accurate? How do you know?

    For example, let's say you pull over to the side of the road, look up an address using Google, pull back into the stream of traffic and one to two minutes later get in an accident. The phone records will be used to show that you were texting while driving -- not that you were parked on the side of the road, in a driveway or parking lot.

    Let's say that you looked up an address (again on the side of the road) and then a few minutes later were in an accident this time caused by your adjusting the radio. Of course, the phone records will show that at the approximate time of the radio, you did a Google search and this time, a witness says that they saw you looking down at the time of the accident. How do you prove otherwise?

    The local news station (here in Utah) did a whole segment on the times when someone looks down and looks like they are texting but were not. For their segment, they drove around Salt Lake City and filmed people who looked like they were texting from a distance but upon closer inspection, they were dealing with other things (such as maps in their lap). Over 80% of the time, people were dealing with other things -- not texting. The interviewed a number of police officers that said that it is almost impossible to determine that someone is texting v.s. not.

    Quite a few people's clocks are off by a few minutes either direction -- with all the confusion that surrounds an accident, it is quite likely a large number of people will be accused and quite possibly successfully prosecuted when they in fact had done the responsible thing and were parked at the side of the road, in a drive way, or had waited until a red-light.

  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:16AM (#29243733) Homepage

    If the main purpose of the justice system really is to carry out vengeance, then why not just leave it to vigilante committees? After all, mob justice is usually fairly swift and costs very little resources; our existing justice system is quite expensive and monolithic in comparison. And, in a way, mob justice/vigilantism is a very democratic means of establishing order in a society. The community as a whole decides what they will and will not tolerate in their community, and what kind of punishment to dispense.

    Also, you claim that a justice system which considers motives rather than results ignores the real-world issues, but then you turn around and support feel-good legislation which focuses on punishment rather legislation that is geared towards obtaining real-world results. I absolutely agree that the results of a crime should be considered. I just don't agree with sentencing based on chance consequences. And dealing with the results of a crime poorly (in the wrong manner) is no better than not dealing with them at all. The job of repairing the damage done by a crime should not be given to prosecutors—their job is to convict criminals of their crimes and protect society from further harm by such criminals. The way this is typically done is by putting criminals in jail where they cannot harm the rest of society, and the length of time they're removed from society for is determined by the nature of the crime/criminal (i.e. how dangerous they are). A reckless texter who gets in an accident, but happens to have not killed anyone this time, is just as dangerous as a texter who gets in an accident but isn't so lucky. So it makes no sense to lock one up but not the other.

    I think the justice system should have more ways to deal with the consequences of a crime than just heavier or lighter sentencing. Reparations would be a start, as that would actually address the real-world consequences of a crime. If the financial provider of a family is killed, then the justice system should see to it that the family continues to be provided for in his absence. If the money cannot be obtained from the criminal, then the justice system should have the resources to provide it some other way. If a murder victim's spouse is emotionally scarred from the crime, she should have counseling/therapy and other support resources provided to her. This would actually allow the family of victims to seek closure in a more healthy way.

    There is some headway already being made to move the justice system in this direction—either through reforms, the creation of victim outreach programs, victim restitution funds, and other programs that allow victims to confront the criminals that hurt them to facilitate the process of healing. Perhaps the concept of restorative justice is still ahead of its time, but we're making progress. Even today there are family members of murder victims who choose not to pursue the death penalty or are otherwise looking past vengeance. I think that's a sign that our society is evolving culturally and ethically.

  • by tyroney (645227) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:33AM (#29243939) Homepage
    This is basically my fear. I have no issue with someone pulling out a phone to text while stopped at an intersection. The only way to be safe from these harsh penalties is to leave a window of at least 30 minutes before/after texting. I doubt a court is going to ask for a narrow time slice when checking phone records to prove your guilt.

    And what about delayed-send messages? What if your reception at [place] is horrible, and you sent a text before getting in the car?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:40AM (#29243999)

    The problem with your approach is the inherent it-will-never-happen-to-me-only-to-those-other-schmucks-because-I'm-so-much-better reflex of the human mind. It helps writing a law AND enforcing it so that you will be reminded of of the consequences of this distraction.

  • victimless crime (Score:3, Interesting)

    by howlingmadhowie (943150) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:56AM (#29244165)
    i don't get it. if i write a text and don't kill anybody or drive drunk and don't kill anybody, society may see fit to revoke privileges (for example my driving license) but it shouldn't be able to throw me in prison or fine me because i haven't actually caused anybody any harm.

    if however i do hit someone and hurt them, then the law can punish me for it.
  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:32PM (#29244527) Homepage

    But the idea of prisons as a form of punishment (and therefore should be unpleasant) often conflicts with the idea of prisons as correctional facilities. A prison can be both, a correctional facility and a way to separate criminals from the rest of society (until they're no longer a danger to the public). But if you turn it into a punitive institution, then you're going to do the opposite of rehabilitate criminals.

    It's been proven time and time again that abuse debases the human spirit. If you lock someone up and force them to live in miserable conditions, they will likely to grow increasingly resentful of society, becoming more dangerous by the time they're released. In the most miserable places on earth, you see the highest incidence of sociopathic behavior, of drug abuse & addiction, and of other social problems. And if you put people in such harsh conditions that they have to form or join a gang just to survive, then you're really just creating more social problems.

    Even if you turn prisons into a permanent quarantine, a place to lock people up and throw away the key, it's still a corrupting influence on society. We've seen the results of the Stanford Prison experiment. I can't even imagine what would happen if you outright said to the prison guards and other officials, "your job is to make the prisoners' lives miserable." Do we want to become a sadistic society that derives satisfaction (or even pleasure) from inflicting suffering on people? How long will it be before we start chopping off the limbs of thieves and other petty criminals?

    I think your heart is in the right place but perhaps haven't fully considered the consequences of instituting suffering (cruelty by any other name). Heck, in all likelihood, a lot of hard criminals you'd consider locking up developed the sociopathic tendencies they have because they grew up in "unpleasant" conditions. More of that isn't likely to cure (or deter) them. I do like the idea of community service instead of imprisonment for petty crimes though. We could reduce prison populations by just assigning menial labor to petty criminals.

  • by pem (1013437) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:38PM (#29244573)
    "If the main purpose of the justice system really is to carry out vengeance,"

    I think you're missing some subtlety here. For one thing, I never argued that was the main purpose, just one of the legitimate purposes, and that it will remain a legitimate purpose until humanity evolves a bit.

    "After all, mob justice is usually fairly swift and costs very little resources; our existing justice system is quite expensive and monolithic in comparison."

    I couldn't disagree with this more. The human and societal costs of unmitigated revenge killings are easy to see at various places throughout the world. The high economic cost of our justice system is more than justified, in economic terms alone if it keeps us from slaughtering each other back into the stone age.

    "And, in a way, mob justice/vigilantism is a very democratic means of establishing order in a society. The community as a whole decides what they will and will not tolerate in their community, and what kind of punishment to dispense."

    Umm, no. The people who participate in the mob are not necessarily "the community as a whole" and are almost never "the community as a whole" when it is thinking calmly and rationally.

    "Also, you claim that a justice system which considers motives rather than results ignores the real-world issues,"

    I never claimed such a thing. You talk about "conflating" vengeance and justice, but that is nothing compared to you turning my "actions" into your "motives." And, I never even argued that actions should not be considered; just that results should be as well.

    "but then you turn around and support feel-good legislation which focuses on punishment rather legislation that is geared towards obtaining real-world results."

    The legislation may not be sufficient; may not go far enough in punishing people who don't kill people. But I think it is certainly necessary to send a message that texting can be lethal and that society will not tolerate lethal texting. Call that "Feel good" if you want; I call it pragmatic, in the political sense that it is the minimum that needs to be done, and might be the maximum that a legislative consensus could be reached on.

    "I just don't agree with sentencing based on chance consequences."

    Sorry, but that's life. Whether you go to jail or not is based on a huge, incalculable series of probabilities. The trick is to try to set the probabilities correctly so that, in general, "bad" people go to jail, and in general, "good" people don't. But this is a very difficult, imprecise science.

    "A reckless texter who gets in an accident, but happens to have not killed anyone this time, is just as dangerous as a texter who gets in an accident but isn't so lucky. So it makes no sense to lock one up but not the other."

    I haven't covered this, but I've seen the same argument applied to drunks, and I have to disagree. There is no question that some people will drive better when drunk than others will. They have made a bad choice, but they might make other mitigating choices, by altering their speed, their route, the time of day they travel, etc. The same thing with texting -- I am sure that there are people who are better at doing it while driving than others, by choosing when they look down, etc.

    Having said that, I personally have no problem with punishing either non-lethal drunks or non-lethal texters, because I think both are risks that shouldn't be taken. But, I still think the punishment ought to be harsher for the ones who kill. In short, I never argued that we should not look at actions (and never mentioned "motives"), but did argue that outcomes need to be considered as well. (And in my book, the outcome of a non-fatal wreck is very serious, not to the extent of a fatal wreck, but much more egregious than when there is no accident.)

    "I think the justice system should have more ways to deal with the consequences of a crime than just heavier or lighter sentencing. Repar

  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @01:51PM (#29245335)

    Problem is, no one really pays attention in traffic.

    I'm 6'4. Place me on my bike, and I'm still about 6' off the ground. When on my bike I either wear a high visibility vest, a really ugly but colourful top in gree, red, yellow and blue (like I said - UGLY) that stands out like an albino in Nigeria. And I still manage to get clipped by drivers who don't pay attention to their surroundings.

    The last time a guy clipped me, I was in the designated bicycle lane, he then swerved into oncoming traffic before swinging back into his own lane, across the bicycle lane and hitting a lamp post.

    When the police got there (I stuck around to get my name on the report, as I needed the report for my insurance claim), one of the officers were talking to the driver while the other one was talking to me. And at one point the one talking to the driver pointed to me and said a bit too loud "are you telling me that you didn't see that ugly blouse, sticking out like a sore thumb, covering a large section of space six feet off the ground? You'd have had better luck making me believe you, if you said you were blinded by it!"

    Yes, quite a lot of people on bicycles are idiots in traffic - but being competent and obeying the traffic laws doesn't help you when you're surrounded by morons who fail to realise that driving around in a heavy piece of machinery isn't a right. It's a privilege and it requires a lot of attention.

    I wouldn't mind having compulsory driving tests every few years. Hell, make them free of charge. Fail the test and your licence is revoked and you need to go through classes again. And if you cannot manage to pull a few hours out of your calendar every few years to renew your license, well - then you probably don't need a license.

  • Re:victimless crime (Score:3, Interesting)

    by howlingmadhowie (943150) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @03:08PM (#29246037)
    this one's pretty easy to answer and i thought about it when i wrote my first post. 2 points:
    if you don't hit anybody and nobody notices you're shooting in their direction, i can see the case for revoking your gun license
    if you don't hit anybody but people notice and are scared then you have caused them to be scared and that's worse.

    can you think of another example? at the moment i can't see much wrong with the basic idea i posited above.
  • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @05:22PM (#29254981)

    Like the busdriver who rear-ended a car because he was too busy composing to notice the traffic jam a mile ahead of him.

    That's nothing, I once saw a truck driver who was reading a newspaper over the wheel while driving.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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