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Distracted driving fight hits a big roadblock: we won’t give up our phones

Commissioner Jess. L. Anderson speaks at the virtual 2021 Zero Fataltities Summit. (Screengrab, Facebook)

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly half of Utahns would sooner give up sex than their cell phones for a year, according to the Utah Department of Transportation at its annual 2021 Zero Fatalities Summit, which focused on distracted driving.

Distracted driving a growing problem

According to UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras, there are three types of distractions faced by drivers — manual, visual, and cognizant.

“Cognizant distractions deal with the task of listening, conversing, daydreaming, or just becoming lost in thought,” Braceras said. “In this form of distraction, the driver is mentally distracted.”

Utah drivers agree that distractions cause problems. A UDOT survey found that 80% of Utahns questioned believe distracted driving is the greatest cause of accidents.

Still, putting down one of the chief distractions — cell phones — apparently wouldn’t be easy.

“45% of folks said they would rather give up sex than their cell phone for a year,” Braceras said.

Other troubling trends 

The numbers may convince Utah drivers to do as the Zero Fatalities program asks, and put away distractions behind the wheel. Some takeaways:

  • In 2020, 276 people died in car accidents, an 8.6% increase over 2018 and 2019;
  • So far in 2021 there have been 67 crashes resulting in 74 deaths statewide.
  • Also in 2021, there have been 20 pedestrian fatalities in Utah (the average for the first three months of 2017-2020 was 8.5 pedestrian fatalities.)

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said that the above numbers are an indicator of the “reckless behavior that people are willing to put themselves in, and others.” 

“It’s unacceptable,” he said.