Texting behind wheel? Prepare to be ticketed

Road safety » 'Nobody taught me how dangerous this was,' says motorist who killed 2.
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Utah drivers are starting to get ticketed for sending text messages from behind the wheel, and state officials want to make sure student drivers learn that much more than a fine is at stake.

Illegal since May, texting continues to kill on Utah roads -- at least twice so far this year, according to state troopers. Computerized traffic-stop records show troopers have pulled over 11 drivers since the practice became illegal May 12, not counting those who received handwritten tickets.

The Utah Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety released a video Wednesday showing the emotional wreckage of one deadly 2006 text message. They plan to give a digital copy to every Utah high school for use in driver education.

"This is the story of a mistake that I made that has changed my life forever, and it has changed the lives of two other families forever," said Reggie Shaw, the driver who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the deaths of Cache Valley residents Jim Furfaro and Keith O'Dell.

Shaw was texting while driving when he drifted over the center line and clipped the car in which the two victims were riding. Their car spun sideways and was broadsided by a pickup.

The video shows both a remorseful Shaw and the widows of his two victims discussing their pain.

"Nobody taught me how dangerous this was," Shaw said through tears Wednesday.

Part of Shaw's plea agreement with prosecutors requires him to help educate young drivers, and he also gave tearful testimony last winter in support of a ban that the Utah Legislature ultimately approved.

Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, sponsored the ban, and was pleased to hear about the educational campaign Wednesday.

Timpview High School students in Provo are advancing another education campaign, Clark said. They will circulate a pledge among Utah schools this year asking teens not to text behind the wheel, and they'll join him Tuesday for the ceremonial bill signing at the Capitol.

"The best way to enforce this is really through education, similar to the seat-belt and alcohol issues," Clark said. "[The ban] is almost unenforceable because a highway patrolman cannot really tell whether you're texting or looking at a number you're trying to dial."

Troopers report that they are pulling over some people for texting, though. Lt. Lee Perry, who patrols the same district where O'Dell and Furfaro died, said he has made four traffic stops for texting. He warned three -- two out-of-staters and one deaf driver -- and ticketed a fourth who admitted to texting.

It's easiest to catch the crime when drivers are stopped at intersections and it becomes apparent that they're not just dialing phone numbers, Perry said.