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Attorney general issues warning to teenage drivers across state

Cell phone use in vehicles is not yet banned in Utah, however, careless driving, a moving violation can be charged for the distracted use of a handheld cellphone or other activities not related to driving.

Sun Advocate community editor

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff recently put the state's teens on notice by providing shocking statistics about the dangers associated with distracted driving.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, teens represent seven percent of the driving population, but the young motorists account for more than 13 percent of the total number of traffic accidents involving fatalities.

"Saving a child's life is something we can all support," said Shurtleff in an Oct. 21 press release promoting National Teen Driving Safety week. "Far too many students lose a classmate, a friend or a companion in car accidents each year. Now is the time to act to prevent future tragedies."

NTSB statistics from 2007 show that:

•7,360 youth younger than the age of 21 were involved in fatal vehicle crashes.

•Of all fatal car crashes, 16-year-old drivers are more than twice as likely to be involved in fatal crashes as older drivers.

•Two-thirds of the passengers killed in teen driver crashes were teenagers.

"It is important to reinforce the idea that, once a vehicle is in motion, the driver must devote his or her full attention to the task at hand - operating the vehicle safely," pointed out the Utah attorney general. "The phone call can wait. The sip of soda or bite of a burger can wait. Nothing is more important than getting to your destination safely."

Utah has not passed legislation that bans the use of hand held devices while driving, however, the state has passed preemptive laws to minimize dangers associated with distracted driving.

Utah law defines careless driving as committing a moving traffic violation other than speeding while distracted by use of a hand held cell phone or other activities not related to operating a vehicle.

The theme of the 2008 national teen driving week focuses on the safety of passengers. The goal of the program is to warn students of the severity of a vehicle crash and the consequences to themselves, their passengers and the general public by driving in an unsafe manner.

The Heads Up Utah program has outlined several tips that will help all motorists, teen and adult alike, to practice safer driving habits when dealing with the general public as they relate to vehicles and pedestrians.

The campaign's website at outlines several myths and facts that can help drivers make the right decision once on the road.

The website addresses a common theory that, because a vehicle is bigger and faster, pedestrians have the right of way.

The fact is, because a motor vehicle has the potential to cause serious and fatal injuries to a pedestrian, the driver has the greater responsibility.

A motor vehicle must yield to any pedestrian in a crosswalk, marked or unmarked.

In fact, the Utah code specifies that a motorist must always exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian regardless of the situation.

The organization recommends that motorists:

•Slow down and use caution in residential areas around schools, playgrounds, parks, bus shops or areas where children and other pedestrians are common.

•Watch vehicles stopped at crosswalks for pedestrians crossing. All vehicles approaching from the rear must stop to allow the pedestrian to cross.

•Must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing at intersections or in any other marked crosswalk.

•When exiting a parking lot or driveway a motorist must stop before the sidewalk and on the sidewalk before crossing over the walk.

•Motorists must realize that a pedestrian the most vulnerable obstacle on the road and should use extreme caution when dealing with their actions.

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