SALT LAKE CITY — As drivers become increasingly distracted — by phones, music, friends or something else — more accidents are blamed on the driver's mind being somewhere other than the road.
On July 8, 2010, Angie Ratliff was driving when she hit a man on a moped.
"I wasn't paying attention," she said. "I just didn't see him."
Ratliff admitted she was distracted while she was driving, but not by talking, texting or the radio — she was distracted by her own thoughts. The man on the moped died from his injuries.
"I was too busy thinking about the projects I had at work," she said. "I've never felt so depressed and so ashamed."
Every day, thousands of drivers on Utah roads are distracted by something, whether it's billboards, signs or other cars. But it's the distractions from inside the car that are often the most dangerous.
According to a KSL poll, nearly 30 percent of drivers in Utah have been in an accident because of distracted driving. Of that 30 percent, the most common distractions are talking on the phone and eating, but surfing the internet and texting are becoming more common.
Many drivers are confident in their ability to multi-task on the road because they haven't been in wrecks while texting before. When asked about texting and driving, Utah driver Cameron Hill said he knows it's dangerous but isn't necessarily worried about his own driving abilities.
"No, (it's) not safe," he said. "But I don't know, I'm safer than most, I would say."
- Four drivers on a closed course
- Each driver has a phone. When someone texts the driver, the driver must respond.
- Drivers must stay in the right lane and watch the car in the lane on their left.
- When the car on the left stops, the driver must stop immediately.
- Waning speeds
- Crossed lines
- Failure to stop when car in left lane stopped
- Delayed reactions
Hill is one of four drivers KSL put to the test. Each driver was put in a car on a closed course and given a cell phone to use while they drove; they would receive a text and have to respond. Drivers were required to stay in their lane and drive as if the car in the other lane was in directly in front of them.
When the car in the other lane stopped, drivers were asked to stop immediately. But oftentimes, they drove far past the other car, meaning in a real situation the driver would have crashed. The experiment found that the distracted drivers had delayed reactions, crossed lines and waning speeds.
"I would have rear-ended him, messed up my car and hurt the person in front of me for sure," said Parker Smith, one of the drivers in the experiment.
When asked if Smith would still text and drive, after the closed-course experiment and being in a separate fender bender while driving distracted, he said texting while driving is a hard habit to break.
"I don't know, it's almost like an addiction," Parker said. "You would think that looking at (my cracked bumper) would be like, ‘Hey stupid, don't do it,' but you end up doing it anyway."
For Ratliff, it's been hard to move on, even after two and a half years. Though she has found some solace in the birth of her baby boy, that joy is often interrupted by the knowledge of what she has taken away. But she hopes to raise awareness of districted driving by sharing her own experience.
"It's amazing what your story does to help people change how they drive," she said.