Texting While Driving Could Bring Harsher Penalties

Texting While Driving Could Bring Harsher Penalties

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Deanie Wimmer ReportingNext week a court hearing could set a precedent in Utah for those who send text messages while driving. According to a Harris Interactive poll, that would apply to a lot of people, even those who claim to know better.

Close to 70 percent of adults who drive admit they send and read text messages while driving. That same poll also found texting while driving is a teenager's number-one distraction.

Janelle Evans admitted, "I do text message while I drive. I kinda, like, try to have one hand on the wheel and, I don't know."

Eighty percent of crashes are caused by distractions. "I'll catch myself swerving off the road, not off the road, but swerving, and I'll say, ‘Ooh my gosh," Evans said.

Harsher deterrents could be coming, because of tragedies like the one that killed Keith Odell. He was a Logan rocket scientist designing the next launch craft to replace the space shuttle.

His widow, Leila, told KSL, "They hadn't been on the road long at all when they were hit by an oncoming car that swerved into their lane and pushed them into oncoming traffic."

Initially investigators told his family they didn't know exactly what caused the crash that killed Odell and his co-worker. Months later, she learned police had subpoenaed the teenage driver's cell phone records. He'd been texting for 20 minutes, from the time he left home until the crash.

"It was just incredible that such selfishness and irresponsibility had caused this, that it wasn't just an accident," Leila said.

Attorney Greg Skordas says, "There's more of a desire to hold people accountable for their misdeeds, and that includes using your cell phone and texting while you're driving."

As a former prosecutor and now defense attorney, not involved in this case, Skordas believes distracted driving cases are becoming more common and attracting tougher scrutiny. "Every time there's an accident, you're going to see law enforcement officers going into cars, looking for cell phones and saying, ‘OK, was this in use at the time?" he said.

In Odell's case, prosecutors have charged the driver with negligent homicide in a double fatality. As legal teams and Odell's family follow the court case, they hope it provides deterrent to other drivers.

Odell's daughter, Megan, said, "I want to see this kid that's my age that caused as much damage as they did, because I didn't even think it was humanly possible until it happened."

Leila adds, "They were totally innocent. It was someone else's irresponsibility that has destroyed our lives."

Is there a way to Stay Safe and text? Not according to U of U psychologists who published research that found text messaging is 50 percent more dangerous than talking on a cell phone.

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