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Team coverageTwo people were seriously injured when a driver ran a red light while text messaging on her phone. The crash happened just after midnight at the intersection of 800 South and 200 East.
Now police are stressing the importance of focused driving. "Even being on a cell phone is distracting, let alone taking your eyes off the road to type a message; it's a recipe for disaster and that's happened here," said Detective Jeff Bedard, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Elizabeth Bedke, 31, will be cited for careless driving. Apparently, she was driving while text messaging as she headed south on 200 East and came to a red light at 800 South. Before she could stop, Bedke's SUV smashed into a van westbound through the intersection on a green light.
The two cars then careened into a pedestrian who was on the southwest corner waiting to cross the street.
"It's one thing to get into an accident with other motorists, it's terrible, but when you have two cars barreling toward a pedestrian, that really could turn out a lot differently and a lot worse," Bedard said.
The 46-year-old male pedestrian was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. The driver of the van, a 53-year-old man, was also transported with serious injuries.
Police say the crash is another reminder that using your cell phone while driving is never safe. "Text messaging, even talking on a cell phone, if you really need to answer a text message, pull to the side of the road and take care of it at that point," said Salt Lake City police Lt. Melody Gray.
"I think the message that should be obvious, but we see it time and time again because people just aren't getting it, is that you can't text and you can't drive at the same time," Bedard said.
Officers also said this accident was especially concerning because it happened at night. They say because it's dark, text messaging while driving is even more dangerous and completely unacceptable.
Utah has seen its fair share of serious accidents involving cell phones. Still, there is no law prohibiting drivers from using them. In the meantime, law enforcement officers, lawmakers and advocates hope awareness will be the answer. Rep. Kory Holdaway of Taylorsville said, "This is an issue for me, and it's got to be dealt with in terms of safety."
"The fact that you're seeing this legislation pop up in different parts of the country shows that it's something that's becoming quite a problem," Bedard said. Several states and communities have already passed laws banning the practice.
Linda Mulkey's daughter was killed by a distracted driver. She said, "After Lauren's accident I started noticing that it seemed like everyone I drove by was talking on their cell phone."
Recently, a University of Utah study found that drivers using cell phones may be just as impaired as someone driving while intoxicated.
Sam Penrod tried texting while driving today and just kept crashing. Fortunately for us, we were in a simulator. But we found today that when you are behind the wheel, reading a text or sending one, texting can cause an accident faster than you can hit "send."
With the help of MPRI simulations group in Salt Lake City, we got behind the wheel of a simulator and tried text messaging at the same time. Sam hadn't even made it down the street, while trying to text, when he took out a crossing guard. And others didn't fare much better.
Joey Aguilar, the Director of Operations for the MPRI simulations group, said, "I read one and texted halfway through another one, and I had to go back and delete and hit the alt button and delete button a couple of times, so it was pretty difficult."
While people are getting to be very proficient and fast at text messaging, even if you think it's a quick message, your decision could have disastrous effects. "Pretty distracting, very hard to pay attention, especially in this scenario, where you are trying to keep track of where you are going and where another vehicle is going and looking for exits and stop signs and stop lights, it's very distracting," Aguilar said.
There are no state laws in Utah restricting cell phone use in the car, but law enforcement and some state lawmakers believe its time for that to change.