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A New Method for the Utah Highway Patrol to Catch Texters By: Madilyn Wallace (Age: 15)

   How a “spotter” van can help officers notice drivers that are texting at the wheel.

          It’s a 15-passenger van, and three Utah Highway Patrol officers are looking out to find those drivers who prefer to look at their phones while driving.

Within minutes of starting the drive through the highway, a trooper saw a driver on their cellphone and a nearby trooper who had heard about it made a traffic stop.

        On July 13th, at 2:45 p.m., the van set off onto Interstate 15. It was a four-hour experiment, with troopers and reporters looking out at the drivers close to them. However, these watchers have an advantage; they can see more than most troopers, who are often riding in marked automobiles lower to the ground. Additionally, despite having the side marking of “stop the texts, end the wrecks,” it blends in better than most other trooper vehicles.

Even though troopers are generally trained to keep their heads at a swivel in order to actively look for drivers violating the law, having spotters helps the troopers catch all of the distracted drivers on Utah roads.

         A spotter by the name of Lt. Cory Nye reportedly said, “The beginning of the rush hour. The fun begins.” Ten seconds later, he notes, “There’s a guy right there.”

For this operation, rush hour was a notorious time for drivers to slow down and reach for their phones. The responses between drivers at being pulled over were varied, such as drivers not noticing the marked van or trying to hide that they were texting while driving. The seven troopers were kept on their toes; at least twice before 4:45 p.m., the black UHP vehicle had to pull over to the side of the road because the troopers were occupied.

       The troopers aren’t merciless about who they investigate; instead, they want to make sure “without a doubt” that drivers are certainly breaking the law first, said Lt. Cory Nye, a spotter in the van.

      Utah Code does not allow the use of “handheld wireless communication,” such as a cell phone, to “write, send, or red text or data” while one is behind the wheel. That means that the authorities can’t pull someone over just because he or she is using their phone’s GPS or talking on the phone, even though both are considered secondary offenses. However, if a driver is texting while driving, that alone can be class C misdemeanor and a fine that the driver must pay.

     Texting while driving is a major problem, as a 2016 annual UHP report shows. Last year alone, troopers pulled over 369 drivers during operations where distracted drivers were specifically searched out for. The amount of total distracted-driving citations has not been immediately available for the public.

     By 7 p.m., seven troopers had managed to pull over 40 drivers. 26 of them were warned, while seven received tickets, according to Marissa Villansenor Cote.

     This vehicle has been in its experimental stage for around a month, but if said testing goes well, the UHP van could become a regular tool for officers to use. The results of Thursday’s operation will be analyzed and another spotting event may be planned out. There are some problems with

getting there, though. It will all depend on resources, such as money, time, and the number of troops that will be available.

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