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Provo police target distracted drivers, warn of dangers

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23 2014 2:38 p.m. MST

Provo police pull over distracted drivers, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2014, and warn them of the dangers of not focusing on the road. According to Utah law, when a driver is texting, responding to an email, visiting social media or even changing the song on the phone, it is still against the law.

Sam Penrod, Deseret News

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PROVO — Police in Provo are targeting distracted drivers, warning that looking down while driving — even for a moment — can have deadly consequences.

Just last week, a distracted driver hit and killed a woman in a crosswalk in Provo.

Officer Mike Luthy pulled over a driver Wednesday who appeared to be texting. She told Luthy that she was just changing the song on her iPhone.

"It looks like you were texting, but you were still manipulating a handheld device, and you can't do that," the officer told the driver.

Luthy trailed another driver who appeared to be texting while driving for nearly three blocks on University Avenue. According to Utah law, whether you are texting, responding to an email, visiting social media or even changing the song on your phone, it is still against the law.

Officers gave out four citations and three warnings during a two-hour window on Wednesday.

"There is one goal and it is to teach people to drive safely," said Provo Police Lt. Mathew Siufanua.

Distracted driving is anything that takes the driver’s attention from the road. It includes, but is not limited to, using a cellphone, eating, reading, drinking, changing music and talking to passengers or tending to children.

Distracted driving is one of the major causes of traffic-related deaths. In 2012, Utah crash statistics show that distracted driving caused 20 fatalities, 125 serious injuries and 4,667 crashes, according to the Zero Fatalities website.

Provo police decided to specifically target distracted drivers after a terrible accident on Jan. 15. A man driving early in the morning hit Rosa Merino in a crosswalk. Police said the driver was not texting, but looked down for a moment and never saw the single mother of three. Merino later died of her injuries.

"You have three young girls now who have no parents to take care of them," Siufanua said. "They have no relatives, all because an individual wasn't paying attention."

It's a class C misdemeanor to text while driving, and if an individual has a prior offense or causes an accident, the citations and fines become more serious.

Prosecutors are reviewing the evidence in last week's fatal accident to decide if charges will be filed against the driver.

While it is not illegal to talk on the phone, police caution everyone to keep their focus on the road and not on their phone conversation.

"If you hurt and kill somebody, there are still penalties," Siufanua said. "I mean the consequences can be grave for you and the individuals that you might hurt."

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: spenrod@deseretnews.com

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