Utah has the toughest penalties in the country for text messaging drivers who cause a fatality in a crash. The new law, where offenders face a maximum of 15 years in prison, went into effect in May of this year. The penalty is equal to that of a drunken driver who causes a fatality and instead of being considered an "accident," regards text messaging as reckless. The blood alcohol level to be considered drunken driving is typically 0.08, talking on the phone while driving is shown in studies to be as risky as drunken driving. Texting while driving has been proven to be at least twice as risky.
This brings up legal questions because drunken drivers can be given a breathalyzer to prove their intoxication level, whereas there are no tests to prove texting while driving. If prosecutors want to charge a text messaging driver who caused an auto accident for recklessness and negligence, they must first prove that the driver knew the risks of text messaging behind the wheel. In Utah, the new law assumes that drivers know that risk.
The law in Utah provides a maximum penalty of three months in jail and up to a $750 fine for being caught texting while driving, which is a misdemeanor. The penalty is much more severe if injury or death is caused, which is a felony and includes up to a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison.