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MIDVALE — As the three girls hit by a car in Midvale Tuesday afternoon were recovering Wednesday, others were discussing distracting driving and measures to prevent it.
Police say the 28-year-old male driver of the car was texting when the three girls were hit at 700 W. Wasatch Street in Midvale, and didn't see the girls. In Utah, texting behind the wheel is prohibited by law, and violators could face up to three months in jail. The driver from Utah County has not been charged, nor has his name been released.
The girls, Jennifer O'Dell, 14, Stacy Smith, 10, and Sophia, 9, were hit Tuesday afternoon around 3:35 p.m. while crossing the road to a swimming pool.
The two older girls were treated and released from the hospital. Information about Sophia, who suffered a head injury, was not immediately available, though doctors said Tuesday night that she was improving. She was expected to return home sometime Wednesday.
Cases like this are why Utah Senator Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, has been working hard to get tougher texting-while-driving laws passed. Tuesday, a law he sponsored went into effect that bans teens under the age of 18 using a cell phone in the car. He thinks that one day, a similar bill will be passed that applies to adults.
"It's tragic what happened the other day. The only good news is, hopefully that because of what we've done, there is less of those that have happened," Hillyard said. "People say, 'Why don't you ban cell phone use for all drivers?' That's eventually going to happen, but I think it's a long process we have to learn."
You're just as dangerous as a drunk driver. We have no tolerance for drinking and driving. We should have absolutely no tolerance for texting while driving.
–Stacy Johnson, Zero Fatalities program
Hillyard said, however, that passing such a strict law would be difficult in Utah.
"We've become a state where people value freedom and say, ‘I ought to be able to choose for myself,' " he said. "I listen to that argument and say, ‘Fine, if you're the only person you're going to hurt, but when you're driving your car 60 miles per hour and not paying attention, I'm at risk.' "
Stacy Johnson is a coordinator of Utah's Zero Fatalities program, which was designed to reduce traffic deaths by eliminating distracted driving.
"We know it's dangerous, but why are we still using that phone? Why are we texting? We need to put that phone down," Johnson said. "We need to be responsible behind that wheel."
"You're so focused on that message that you miss the obvious: what's in front of you," she said.
Johnson said distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
"You're just as dangerous as a drunk driver. We have no tolerance for drinking and driving. We should have absolutely no tolerance for texting while driving," Johnson said.
Hillyard said Utah already has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, but people still drive drunk. He said it comes down to common sense and personal responsibility.