Distracted driving is as risky as drunk driving, study says

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new study by the Cambridge Mobile Telematics, the world's leader in smartphone-centric telematics, says that distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.

In the study, more than half of all the trips conducted resulted in crashes, but John Gleason, UDOT Public Information Officer, wasn't surprised.

"There's really no surprises in this report, it confirms what we've known for years, and that's that distracted driving is one of the most common and one of the deadliest behaviors we see here on Utah roads," Gleason said.

In Utah alone, distracted driving has caused at least 25 deaths in Utah, but according to Gleason, that's only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, because of varying circumstances, such as drivers not wanting to admit they were distracted during a crash, the likely number is much higher than reported.

"Unfortunately if there's a fatality involved, if someone is killed as the result of distracted driving, it's not always easy to prove that person was distracted, and a lot of times people don't admit that they're distracted," Gleason said.

Gleason said distracted driving has become so commonplace that it's bled into our driving.

"As a society, we're really addicted to our cell phones. We're addicted to technology  and that's a hard addiction put away even when you're behind the wheel, but it's so necessary to focus all of your attention on the road because if you make a mistake behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle, unfortunately, the results can be catastrophic," Gleason said.

And it's not just the kids who'll be doing it, Gleason argues, distracted driving is something the culture will have to contend with for years to come unless there's a culture change.

"We need distracted driving to be viewed in the same light as drunk driving. It needs to have that same negative stigma. You'd never consider getting into a vehicle with someone who's drinking, or someone who is obviously drunk. So why would you consider getting into a vehicle with someone who is checking their email or texting and driving? The answer is you shouldn't," Gleason said.

April is national distracted driving awareness month and for Gleason, the best thing you can do is to put down your phones.

"Driving is one of the most dangerous things that most of us will do in a day and unfortunately it's something most of us will take for granted, but all it takes is a second or two to take your eyes off the road and become distracted," Gleason said. "But when you're behind the wheel of a vehicle you need to focus all of your attention on the road."