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Troopers use unmarked van to look for distracted drivers

Jun 27, 2018, 2:53 PM | Updated: Jun 28, 2018, 10:47 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Using an unmarked passenger van driving up and down Salt Lake County’s freeways, troopers with the Utah Highway Patrol on Wednesday conducted a crackdown on distracted driving.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a black, 16-passenger van traveled along I-15, I-215, and I-80 looking for drivers manipulating their cell phones. Once a trooper inside the van noticed a distracted driver, they would radio to nearby troopers to make the traffic stop.

“During the 100 deadliest days of summer we know that distraction is a problem,” said Highway Patrol Lt. Todd Royce.

A Utah Highway Patrol trooper watches out the window of an unmarked van for distracted drivers along Interstate 15 in Salt Lake County.

This type of operation requires about a dozen troopers to work either inside the van as spotters, or on motorcycles or in police cruisers stationed along the interstates. While they will be issuing tickets, Lt. Royce says the goal is to spread the message about the dangers of distracted driving and changing driving habits.

“We’re hoping people just comply with the law,” he said. “We hope people just say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a problem with texting and driving and I have a problem with cell phones. I’m going to put it away.’”

The operation is also a good time to inform the public about what is allowed with a cell phone while behind the wheel.

“A phone up to your ear is not against the law,” Lt. Royce explained. “It’s the manipulation of the phone.”

The Utah Highway Patrol uses this 16-passenger van so that troopers can sit up high and look into vehicles traveling nearby.

Troopers say when they used to pull people over for distracted driving they would hear a lot of excuses. Now, they’re hearing more admissions from drivers that they need to put their phones away.

In 2016, there were more than 5,700 crashes in Utah that were attributed to distracted driving, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety. More than half of those crashes, 54 percent, were rear-end collisions.

“We’ve had serious injuries. We’ve had fatalities,” Lt. Royce said of accidents involving cell phone distractions. “We’ve had instances where we will have a fatal crash and the person will literally throw their phone out the window trying to get rid of any evidence.”

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Troopers use unmarked van to look for distracted drivers