Utah now punish texting drivers with fifteen years in jail

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WEEKEND: While the United States Senate is set to be passing a law that would see a national ban on texting while you are behind the wheel; several states have taken up their own initiative and have banned the act within their state borders. But one state has enforced a severe penalty if you are caught texting and cause a crash.

In Utah, a texting person that causes a crash and injures or kills someone can be given the same penalty as if they were drink driving and kills someone. Also, the law now changes the definition of “crash” to being someone that was inherently reckless when multitasking (i.e. texting or using your phone while driving).

Under the new law, those who injure or cause death to a person can face fifteen years in prison and a US$10,000 fine. But if you are caught texting and driving, you can be given up to three years in jail and a fine of US$750 – and that is just a misdemeanour.

The law has been in effect since May of this year.

The law was passed because an accident occurred at its northernmost country, where 19-year-old college student Reggie Shaw killed two scientists, Keith P. O’Dell and James Furaro, in 2006. While denying he did nothing wrong, and denied texting while driving (though Shaw said that he did not remember that conversation, or much of the accident), they were able to find that he sent 11 text messages to his girlfriend 30 minutes before a crash after getting a subpoena for his phone.

Because the law wasn’t caught up at that sate, he was given 30 days in jail, 200 hours of community service and to read “Les Misérables”. He is now advocating for a national law on banning the practise.

Out of those who have passed similar laws, the only state that gives a harsher punishment is Alaska. A law passed in 2007 makes it a felony if a driver causes a fatal accident when a television, video monitor or computer is on inside the car and in the driver’s field of vision – and this also means phones used for texting, but also excludes devices like GPS navigators. If found guilty, a person can receive 20 years in prison.

According to the BBC, new research by the RAC Foundation found that reaction time was slowed down by 35 percent when 17 to 24 year olds drove while writing and reading text messages. Also, texters were more often to drift out of lanes, had poorer steering control and their overall performance was poor. Last year, it found that it was more dangerous texting while driving than being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

To highlight this problem, which is punishable with a £60 fine and three penalty points on their license in the UK, the Gwent Police in Wales produced a short film that shows a teenage girl kill four people after she texted while driving. They hope to show this around the UK, and has become an internet sensation and being shown across news shows in the United States. The video can be found below.

Warning: the video does contain disturbing and graphic images. Do not watch if you are highly sensitive.

Image from: stephendamron/Flickr (CC)

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