UHP cracks down on distracted drivers in latest operation

SALT LAKE CITY – One month into the ‘100 Deadliest Days’, Utah Highway Patrol troopers have seen an increase in distracted driving.

On Wednesday, they launched an operation to crack down on violators.

Troopers focused on I-15, I-215, and I-80 for the distracted driving operation. Three spotters and a driver loaded up in a unmarked, black, 16-passenger van.

“As we go down the roadway they observe those people that are mainly texting or manipulating their cellphones and driving,” Lt. Todd Royce, Public Information Officer with the Utah Highway Patrol said.

Utah law bans all texting and manipulation of a cell phone while driving, but it's not against the law to put a phone up to your ear while driving.

Spotters use the radio to report violators so the nine troopers on the road can pull them over.  Within minutes on I-15, offenders were easy to spot.

UHP says 9 percent of all crashes are due to distractions such as cell phones, but believes it’s under-reported and the actual number may be as high as 50 percent.

"We’ve had serious injuries. We’ve had fatalities,” Royce said. “We’ve had instances where we’ll have a fatal crash and the person will literally throw the phone out the window trying to get rid of any evidence.”

Texting isn’t the only distraction.

“We just had a severe fatality that a pet was a distraction that killed three people down in Scipio,” said Royce. “Food, makeup, reading. We’ve seen people driving down the road reading novels.”

Royce said they’ve heard too many excuses.

“I was just on my navigation system. My navigation system is on my phone. I was making a phone call. I wasn’t texting and driving. I was dialing a number.”

Your best bet is to go hands-free and put the phones away when you’re behind the wheel.

“Limit your distractions, focus on the road," Royce said. "I can guarantee you you’ll be in a lot less crashes and I can guarantee you won’t be pulled over by one of these troopers and written a ticket."

The fine for distracted driving can run from $100 to $150, but UHP says the goal isn’t writing as many tickets as they can.

It’s about getting people to put their phones away so everyone is safe on the roadways.

UHP released the numbers from the operation.  Of the 58 traffic stops made, 25 citations and nine warnings were given to people for texting while driving.