Police Use of Radar Guns to Detect Texting and Driving

Radar guns have been used by police since 1949 to catch speeding drivers and are now being developed to also detect those texting and driving.

Distracted driving

Photo by: Intel Free Press

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is dangerous, claiming 3,477 lives in 2015 alone [and] 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. ( . . . ) [T]exting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” The NHTSA also announced that “During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. With smart phones offering consumers communication, shopping, entertainment and so much more on the go, it is hard to not look at our phones- even on short trips in the car. Ignoring the sound of a notification or delaying the sending of a quick message to a friend takes a lot of willpower to avoid.

Texting and driving

Many individuals that text and drive can appear to do so stealthily, often without being noticed by other drivers or law enforcement until their distracted driving gets them into trouble. Cell phone use prior to an accident is extremely common, so common in fact that those at fault are often blamed for using a cell phone use whenever a vehicle accident occurs from a driver who was distracted. Following an accident, law enforcement can usually determine whether or not a cell phone was actually in use leading up to the collision. Now however, officers would like to detect texting and driving prior to a potential accident.

Texting radar guns

Photo by: James G

A company called ComSonics has been working on a radar gun that can help police detect whether or not a cell phone is being used in a moving vehicle. The texting radar gun, named Sniffer Sleuth uses radar technology to detect radio frequencies that are emitted from a cell phone during use. Every time a text is sent, a call is made, or the phone is otherwise being used by a distracted driver, the Sniffer Sleuth will be able to pick up on the change in frequencies, alerting the officer on the other side of the gun.

A work in progress

While the Sniffer Sleuth seems like a great idea to catch those who text or Facebook while driving, there are some concerns with its accuracy and thus its validity as proof of distracted driving. For one, a speeding radar gun targets the entire car yet a texting gun is going to pinpoint where in the moving car a phone is being used? Unless a driver is alone, it seems highly unlikely that a radar gun would be able to determine from where in the car the radio frequencies are being discharged from. Another issue is for those who are texting or calling legally through the use of hands-free technology such as Bluetooth connections in their vehicle. Although law enforcement should be able to note a driver is using one of these hands-free options after viewing the driver’s phone, that driver still has to deal with the embarrassment of being pulled over along with the loss of time from the traffic stop. The other major concern that is at stake is the privacy of the public. Will the texting radar guns be able to pick up any content of messages and if not, won’t law enforcement then be able to use more privacy concerning gadgets such as the Textalyzer? Finally, will officers use this new technology as a means of pulling over a suspicious vehicle whose driver is otherwise following the law?

Criminal Charges

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If someone is found guilty of texting while driving, they will face a class C misdemeanor or a class B misdemeanor if they cause an accident where someone is seriously injured. Utah Code 41-6a-1716 states unless for navigation or during an emergency, “A person may not use a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway in this state to manually:
(a) write, send, or read a written communication, including:
(i) a text message;
(ii) an instant message; or
(iii) electronic mail;
(b) dial a phone number;
(c) access the Internet;
(d) view or record video; or
(e) enter data into a handheld wireless communication device”

Anyone facing charges following law enforcement’s use of text-detecting gadgets such as Sniffer Sleuths or Textlyers should speak to an attorney about the reliability of the information collected and whether or not it will hold up in court.

Threatening Breach of Peace on Public Bus Systems in Utah

The Bus Passenger Safety Act of Utah is “essential to the comfort, safety and well-being of bus passengers” and anyone threatening breach of peace while riding the public bus systems may end up with criminal charges.

Public transportation

Photo by : Garrett

Those who utilize the public bus systems in Utah are likely to have stories of fellow passengers whose behavior was offensive, disturbing, or perhaps just a little odd. What type of behavior is allowed on the public bus systems and what constitutes threatening breach of peace? Violent behavior that involves physical assault or firearm use is understandably against the law on public buses yet so is some behavior that Utah residents may expect to witness while riding on public transportation.

Threatening breach of peace

Utah Code 76-10-1506 describes behavior that is not permitted on a public bus such as “if the person:

(a) threatens a breach of the peace, is disorderly, or uses obscene, profane, or vulgar language on a bus;

(b) is in or upon any bus while unlawfully under the influence of a controlled substance ( . . . )

(c) fails to obey a reasonable request or order of a bus driver, bus company representative, a nondrinking designee other than the driver ( . . . ) or other person in charge or control of a bus or terminal;

(d) ingests any controlled substance, unless prescribed by a physician or medical facility, in or upon any bus, or drinks intoxicating liquor in or upon any bus, except a chartered bus ( . . . ) or

(e) smokes tobacco or other products in or upon any bus, except a chartered bus.”

Removal from bus and possible criminal charges

If a person on a public bus shows any of the above behavior, the bus driver is allowed to physically remove said person from the bus with the help of fellow passengers if needed. The driver also has the option to contact authorities to detain them after they are removed. If law enforcement has to get involved, the person guilty of threatening breach of peace on a bus may face a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $750.

Minor Traffic Accident Escalates to Assault with a Vehicle

A minor traffic accident in southern Utah quickly escalated to assault with a vehicle after a driver decided he didn’t want to stay at the scene.

Fender Bender

Assault with a Vehicle

Photo by: Charles Wagner

20 year old Ethan Campbell Hansen of St. George, Utah was arrested for multiple misdemeanors as well as four felonies after being involved in a minor traffic accident during holiday festivities last week. The rear-ending accident itself was minor and would have likely ended in a traffic violation for Hansen of following too close. Unfortunately, the fender bender was just the beginning.

Traffic violation vs felony charges

Instead of waiting for police to come investigate the accident, Hansen attempted to flee. Two pedestrians were struck by Hansen’s vehicle, suffering minor injuries, while multiple others were able to get out of harm’s way. It was only then that Hansen decided to stay on scene. After authorities were able to obtain Hansen’s true identity and restrain him, he was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility. His charges include:

• Two Class C misdemeanors for criminal mischief and leaving the scene of a pedestrian accident;

• Two Class B misdemeanor for interfering with an arrest and failing to disclose identity;

• One third degree felony for assault by a prisoner; as well as

• Three other third degree felonies for aggravated assault with a vehicle (dangerous weapon).

Assault with a vehicle

Photo by: Dean Strelau

Utah Code 76-5-103 states that “aggravated assault is an actor’s conduct that is
i. An attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another;

ii. A threat, accompanied by a show of immediate force or violence, to do bodily injury to another;

iii. An act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another; and

That includes the use of:

i. A dangerous weapon [any item capable of causing death or serious bodily injury]”

Although no weapons were located on Hansen or in his vehicle, assault with a vehicle has the potential to cause serious injury or death and is categorized along with other weapons when used in an assault.

Go big and go to jail

Photo by: Washington County Sheriff’s Department

With four misdemeanor and four felony charges to face in court, Hansen has the potential to face over 20 years in prison and fines totaling nearly $35,000. No one is sure why Hansen chose to escalate the situation, seeing as he isn’t known to be a violent offender or have any criminal history at all; He may have been simply trying to run away from the problems he caused. Many younger adults are not educated on how to property react to intense situations and fleeing can often seem the best course of action at the time. It is imperative that they are taught the importance of staying on the scene of an accident and not expanding the situation by reacting poorly. Anyone facing charges for a minor or serious offense is encouraged to seek guidance from this point out from a qualified criminal defense attorney.