What Counts as Distracted Driving in Utah?
Driving is always a dangerous activity, even when drivers are cautious and focused. When a driver gets distracted by text messages, smartphone apps, or other distractions, the risk of an accident increases even higher. In fact, the Utah Department of Public Safety identifies distracted driving as one of the leading causes of car accidents in Utah. If you were hit and injured in an auto accident that was caused by a distracted driver, such as a driver who was texting instead of watching the road, you may be able to get compensated. Keep reading to hear a Salt Lake City personal injury attorney explain Utah’s distracted driving laws and what to do if you were hurt in a crash.
Utah Distracted Driving Definition
The Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) calls distracted driving “a growing problem” in the Beehive State. According to DPS distracted driving accident statistics, driver distraction caused or contributed to 5,850 accidents during 2015, resulting in 28 fatalities and more than 3,200 injuries. To frame these statistics another way, distracted driving was a factor in 10% of all Utah car accidents during 2015. This figure is already significant, and unfortunately, only seems to be increasing with time.
But what exactly is distracted driving?
Utah’s traffic laws do not contain an explicit definition of “distracted driving.” They do, however, define the misdemeanor of careless driving, which includes some specific examples of distracted driving under Utah Code § 41-6a-1715.
For instance, Utah Code § 41-6a-1715(1)(b) partially defines careless driving as being “distracted by one or more activities taking place within the vehicle that are not related to the operation of a motor vehicle.” This includes “searching for an item in the vehicle” (such as a dropped coin, phone, or water bottle) and “attending to personal hygiene or grooming” (such as applying makeup or brushing one’s hair).
Other than retrieving dropped items or adjusting makeup, other common examples of distracted driving could include:
- Fiddling with the radio station
- Focusing on food or beverages
- Playing with apps
- Sending, reading, or replying to text messages
While all of these actions create serious safety hazards, one in particular has attracted special attention from the Utah Legislature: the issue of texting while driving. Keep reading for an explanation of restrictions on texting and driving in Utah.
Texting and Driving Laws in Utah
Like many other states, Utah prohibits texting while driving. The ban on texting and driving is located at Utah Code § 41-6a-1716, which makes “using a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle” illegal. (The phrase “handheld wireless communication device” is simply a verbose term for a cell phone or smartphone.)
The same law provides a few exceptions where using a phone while driving is legal. For example, it is legal to use a phone “during a medical emergency” (such as calling 9-1-1) or “when reporting a safety hazard” (such as downed power lines). Otherwise, texting while driving is not permitted. The law explicitly makes it illegal to “write, send, or read a written communication, including: (i) a text message; (ii) an instant message; or (iii) electronic mail” (email).
People who engage in distracted driving can be criminally prosecuted, fined, and jailed. On the civil side, the person who was hit by the distracted driver can also file a lawsuit or car accident claim as a means of recovering compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other damages. If the victim sustained extremely serious injuries, or had medical bills in excess of $3,000, he or she can also pursue compensation for pain and suffering (called “non-economic damages”) caused by the accident and resulting injuries. In this context, extremely serious injuries would include any injuries that caused:
- Permanent Disability/Impairment
- Permanent Disfigurement
In the case of a fatal accident, the decedent’s spouse or immediate family members would generally be the ones to bring an action against the distracted driver. If you lost a loved one to a fatal car accident caused by a distracted driver, a Utah wrongful death attorney can explain your legal rights and help your family pursue justice.
Contact a Salt Lake City Distracted Driving Accident Lawyer if You Were Injured
Distracted drivers cause thousands of preventable accidents every year in Utah. According to the DPS, most of these accidents are rear-end collisions, which are particularly common at intersections. In many cases where distracted driving causes a rear-end collision at an intersection, the cause was that the rear-ending driver reading or sending text messages.
To speak with a Salt Lake City intersection accident lawyer concerning a distracted driving auto accident claim, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 895-3143. Car accident lawyer Darwin Overson has over 33 years of legal experience, and provides representation to accident victims throughout Utah.