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UDOT urges drivers to keep hands on the wheel, eyes on the road as construction season begins in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Warmer temperatures means it is construction season again here in Utah, and with more than 180 construction projects planned for 2015, the Utah Department of Transportation took some time to remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

UDOT engineers created a construction site in a Taylorsville parking lot Thursday, and FOX 13 News’ Carly Figueroa took a test drive.

"We can tell you all day long what it's like to be distracted, but to actually experience it in an area that's safe--if you make a mistake that's going to speak volumes,” said Jason Davis, who is an Operations Director for UDOT.

The course included sharp turns, rumble strips and vulnerable road workers. They invited drivers to take two test drives: one while focused on the fictitious construction zone and the other while trying to answer a call or respond to a text.

Just reading the text while driving the course was a challenge. In FOX 13’s test, Carly made it through the course without hurting anyone, but she was at least 10 miles under the posted speed limit. According to UDOT, in 2014 there were 22 distracted driving fatalities in Utah.

Jeff Reynolds, statewide manager for Utah's incident management team, said construction workers are vulnerable when they are near roads.

"These guys out here, they don't have vehicles around them,” he said. “They're out there working off the side of the road, and we need public support on this.”

Three weeks ago, Reynolds was hit in his company truck while clearing the scene of an accident.

"He impacted the truck, I sustained a little bit of a neck injury, and he was transported to the hospital in serious condition,” Reynolds said.

The accident remains under investigation, but Highway Patrol officials said distracted driving appeared to have been a factor.

As UDOT continues to work toward their goal of zero fatalities on Utah roads, they are rolling out another slogan to help drivers remember: Hands on the wheel--eyes on the road.

"If we can get everyone to do that, I think will have a very successful year as far as everyone coming home safely at the end of the day,” Davis said.

Fines increase in work zones as well, so pay attention to posted speed limits and of course avoid using your phone when behind the wheel.