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State to rewrite Driver Ed curriculum, includes texting

May 7th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

Story and photo by Kayla Harding

During a state driver education conference in late April, plans to rewrite Utah’s curriculum, including the dangers of unlawful texting and driving were announced.

There are currently no questions that deal with texting and driving on the official written test students must pass to obtain their driver’s license, said Dave Falslev, Sky View High School driver education department head, who attended the conference.

The student handbook the state uses to teach the laws and basics of driving also lacks information on texting while driving.

According to Falslev, the state will begin forming a committee to rewrite the curriculum. He believes it will be made up of teachers, state specialist Gale Johnson and state driver’s license divisions.

Falslev expects the committee will use other states’ curriculum, studies and other sources to generate Utah’s new curriculum. He estimates the state will present the new curriculum at next years conference in April.

In the classroom >> Wade Lindley has taught at Logan High School for 14 years, and among other subjects, currently teaches driver education.

“Many students admit to me that they’ve texted while driving,” Lindley said. “Texting is a new phenomenon that seems to be almost an addiction for teenagers. It is very difficult for many teenagers to go an hour or two without having to text somebody. And then the obvious problem with texting and driving is that it not only can affect those who text, but innocent people can be hurt or killed by those who decide to text and drive.”

KSL-TV reported on Nov. 2, 2007, that texting while driving is the No. 1 distraction for teenagers.

Under current law, Utah drivers are prohibited to use a cell phone for text messaging or electronic mail communication while operating a vehicle. If caught, drivers could face a class C misdemeanor, up to three months in jail and up to a $750 fine. If a fatality occurs the driver could face up to 15 years in prison.

Sgt. John Italasano of North Park Police Department said, “I’ve been a lot more aggressive in looking for people that text while they drive, and the simple fact is when I’m on the road, I’m in an unmarked vehicle , so its pretty hard for people to detect I’m a policeman.“

Italasano said he cited a young man with his hands on the steering wheel while simultaneously holding his phone a few weeks ago. The young man claimed to be reading a text message.

Falslev said, “I don’t know any driver’s ed teachers who aren’t spending a significant portion of their time dealing with texting and driving. Distracted driving has really become a big push for us in probably the last four years.”

Falslev added that his department hasn’t waited for the state to make corrections or suggestions. He said it takes time for the state to make those changes, so his department has adjusted their curriculum to address not just texting, but distracted driving as a whole.

Lindley said, “Yes, we have included texting and driving into our driver education classes. Many of the students seem to understand the dangers of it while they are in class, but as time goes on I’m sure the students forget or dismiss the dangers of texting and driving.”

Kayla Savage, 16, a sophomore at Sky View, has yet to obtain her driver’s license but has passed the state test and completed driver education. She agrees that texting while driving is unsafe, and said her driver education instructor did teach her that texting while driving is illegal. Savage also admitted some of her friends do text while driving, and some do not.

Italasano said County Attorney James Swink has announced that he is aggressively prosecuting those that make the choice to text message while driving.

Italasano said Swink has told NPPD that they can seize the cell phone if the driver was texting, and go into the phone’s memory to view the time and date text messages were sent and received, in order to prove the individual was texting.

Zero Fatalities: A goal we can all live with >> What Savage remembers most from driver education was that texting and driving makes you more likely to get in an accident, and that it is worse than being drunk behind the wheel.

Savage was right. Studies conducted at the University of Utah show that texting while driving is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit, according to a video focused on texting and driving on the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Zero Fatalities website.

Falslev said these studies are part of his driver education curriculum.

Dr. David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, says in the video, “About 80 percent of accidents on our highway are due to some form of driver distraction, where your mind is taken off the road for some period of time, and given that we have upwards of 40,000 fatalities on the highway every year, it’s a significant problem.”

The video is centered around a specific texting and driving incident that ended in two fatalities and began the push for the texting while driving bill to become a law. In 2006, Reggie Shaw was driving to Logan on Valley View Highway on his way to work. Behind Shaw was John Kaiserman, driving a pick-up truck towing a trailer. In the oncoming lane was a Saturn with two men inside. Shaw, who had been sending and receiving text messages from his girlfriend, drifted over the center line and hit the side of the oncoming Saturn. This pushed the vehicle into the path of the truck behind Shaw. The car and truck collided off into a ditch on the side of the road. James A. Furfaro, 38, and Keith P. O’Dell, 50, were killed on impact.

Shaw was 19 at the time with no criminal history. He received 100 hours of public service, plus 30 days in jail. The video goes on to say Shaw’s sentence was the last in Utah to be so light.

“We watch a few TV clips of families who have lost a loved one to distracted driving and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and we occasionally have guest speakers who have been affected by distracted driving,” Lindley said. “I have found that these emotional stories reach the student’s heart more than just telling them of the dangers.”

More tragedy in Cache Valley >> Just months after the law went into effect, 19-year-old Jacob Brent Hawkes, a former Sky View student, ran a red light at 3700 N. Main. He swerved to avoid a truck turning left onto Hyde Park Lane. He was ejected from the vehicle and died hours after the accident at the hospital. Italasano found an unfinished text message on Hawke’s phone.

The things Chad Hawkes, father of Jacob Hawkes, remembers most about Jake are the things that still bring a lump to his throat.

“As I hear a familiar song, go hunting and fishing with his brothers, sit in church, pass by a soccer field and hear cheering, gather as a family around the dinner table and imagine his laugh as he’d play with his siblings,” Chad Hawkes said. “I miss not being able to sit with him on the front porch sharing a Pepsi, eating sunflower seeds and talking about life’s ups and downs.”

Savage said she took a pledge, along with many other Sky View High students, vowing not to text and drive after Chad Hawkes visited the school to share his son’s story.

”Initially I wanted nothing to do with turning my son into a poster child for unsafe driving,” Hawkes said. As the months have passed I’ve come to realize that maybe if I can persuade even one person to pay closer attention to the road instead of dealing with phone issues, and distractions in general, then it would be worth it.”

Tim G. Smith, assistant principal at Sky View High said, “It hit close to home. You can hear about these things in media, but when students relate it to someone they know it has a much bigger impact.”

Chad Hawkes said, “Whenever I pass in front of the Maverik gas station in Hyde Park where Jake was killed I quietly reach up and put my hand over my heart to remind me of how much I miss my son. Now instead of telling the other kids to buckle up, I tell them to ‘Jake up’. Little things like that help remind the family that each one of them is important to me, and how sad it would be if they weren’t here any more.”

In reference to texting and driving, Smith said, “It is an issue that needs that both students and adults need to be constantly reminded of and be aware of. You can’t talk about it too much.”

Chad Hawkes would agree. “When I walked into the ER the night of Jake’s accident, I saw a person lying on the hospital gurney that I did not recognize as my son,” he said. “For any parent to have to do that is reason enough to share a moment with their kids about this important subject. I will continue to share Jake’s story when asked because when I see Jake’s friends and talk to them, I see Jake.”

Reggie Shaw’s Texting Video| Zero Fatalities:

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