Wednesday, April 13, 2011


2010National Reporting

Not Driving Drunk, but Texting? Utah Law Sees Little Difference

Matt Richtel
August 29, 2009

LOGAN, Utah — In most states, if somebody is texting behind the wheel and causes a crash that injures or kills someone, the penalty can be as light as a fine.

Utah is much tougher.

After a crash here that killed two scientists — and prompted a dogged investigation by a police officer and local victim’s advocate — Utah passed the nation’s toughest law to crack down on texting behind the wheel. Offenders now face up to 15 years in prison.

The new law, which took effect in May, penalizes a texting driver who causes a fatality as harshly as a drunken driver who kills someone. In effect, a crash caused by such a multitasking motorist is no longer considered an “accident” like one caused by a driver who, say, runs into another car because he nodded off at the wheel. Instead, such a crash would now be considered inherently reckless.

“It’s a willful act,” said Lyle Hillyard, a Republican state senator and a big supporter of the new measure. “If you choose to drink and drive or if you choose to text and drive, you’re assuming the same risk.”

The Utah law represents a concrete new response in an evolving debate among legislators around the country about how to reduce the widespread practice of multitasking behind the wheel — a topic to be discussed at a national conference about the dangers of distracted driving that is being organized by the Transportation Department for this fall.

Studies show that talking on a cellphone while driving is as risky as driving with a .08 blood alcohol level — generally the standard for drunken driving — and that the risk of driving while texting is at least twice that dangerous. Research also shows that many people are aware that the behavior is risky, but they assume others are the problem.

Treating texting behind the wheel like drunken driving raises complex legal questions. Drunken drivers can be identified using a Breathalyzer. But there is no immediate test for driving while texting; such drivers could deny they were doing so, or claim to have been dialing a phone number. (Many legislators have thus far made a distinction between texting and dialing, though researchers say dialing creates many of the same risks.)

If an officer or prosecutor wants to confiscate a phone or phone records to determine whether a driver was texting at the time of the crash, such efforts can be thwarted by search-and-seizure and privacy defenses, lawyers said.

Reggie Shaw, texting caused a car accident that killed two scientists headed to work.(Jeffrey D. Allred for The New York Times)

Prosecutors and judges in other states already have the latitude to use more general reckless-driving laws to penalize multitasking drivers who cause injury and death. In California, for instance, where texting while driving is banned but the only deterrent is a $20 fine, a driver in April received a six-year prison sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter when, speeding and texting, she slammed into a line of cars waiting at a construction zone, killing another driver.

But if those prosecutors want to charge a texting driver with recklessness, they must prove the driver knew of the risks before sending texts from behind the wheel.

In Utah, the law now assumes people understand the risks.

The law “is very noteworthy,” said Anne Teigen, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, an organization of state legislators. “They have raised the bar and said texting while driving is not just irresponsible, and it’s not just a bad idea — it is negligent.”

Ms. Teigen said legislators throughout the country were struggling with how to address threats created by new technology, just as they once debated how to handle drunken driving.

Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, has said drivers should not text behind the wheel, and several United States senators recently introduced legislation to force states to ban texting while driving.

Utah, governed by a Republican legislature with a libertarian bent, may seem an unlikely state to pursue particularly tough penalties governing driver behavior.

But the issue forced itself onto the legislative agenda here because of what occurred on the rainy morning of Sept. 22, 2006.

The accident occurred on a two-lane highway just west of Logan, in a verdant valley in Utah’s northernmost county.

Reggie Shaw, a 19-year-old college student working as a house painter, was driving west to work in a Chevrolet Tahoe S.U.V. Approaching him, in a Saturn sedan, was James Furaro, 38, and his passenger, Keith P. O’Dell, 50. The senior scientists were commuting to ATK Launch Systems, where they were helping to design and build rocket boosters.

Mr. Shaw crossed the yellow dividing line on the two-lane road and clipped the Saturn. It spun across the highway and was struck by a pickup truck hauling a trailer filled with two tons of horseshoes and related equipment.

Two scientists were killed when their car was clipped by a texting driver and spun across the highway into a pickup truck.(Utah Highway Patrol)

The two scientists were killed instantly.

At the scene, the investigating officer, Bart Rindlisbacher of the Utah Highway Patrol, said he could not pinpoint the cause of the crash. Mr. Shaw said he could not remember doing anything out of the ordinary.

The trooper figured it was an unfortunate case of “left of center,” a catch-all for a traffic offense that involves crossing the yellow divider.

But a witness told the police he had seen Mr. Shaw swerving several times just before the accident, raising Mr. Rindlisbacher’s suspicions. The trooper’s concerns grew as he drove Mr. Shaw to the hospital. He saw Mr. Shaw, in the passenger seat, pull out his phone and start texting.

“Were you texting while you were driving?” Mr. Rindlisbacher recalled asking.

“No,” he recalled Mr. Shaw responding. (Mr. Shaw said he did not remember the conversation or much about the accident.)

The trooper was deeply skeptical. He figured out how to subpoena Mr. Shaw’s phone records. Six months later, with help from a state public safety investigator, they got the records and their proof: Mr. Shaw and his girlfriend had sent 11 text messages to each other in the 30 minutes before the crash, the last one at 6:47 a.m., a minute before Mr. Shaw called 911. Investigators concluded he sent that last text when he crossed the yellow line.

Still, county prosecutors thought they were unable to charge Mr. Shaw with something other than “left of center.” For instance, if they wanted to prove Mr. Shaw guilty of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, they would need to show he knew of the dangers or should have known of the dangers of texting while driving.

Mr. Shaw, who had retained a lawyer, would not discuss the issue with law enforcement or prosecutors.

Then Terryl Warner, a victim’s advocate in the county where the accident occurred, got involved.

Ms. Warner had a personal interest in the case because she knew the family of one of the scientists.

In July 2007, Ms. Warner, convinced by the trooper’s evidence, wrote to prosecutors arguing for a vehicular manslaughter charge. She said the dangers of texting and driving were broadly known, therefore Mr. Shaw should have known better.

Mr. Shaw had just started a Mormon mission in Canada when he was called home to face charges of negligent homicide. The trial was set for early 2009.

Then, just before Thanksgiving in 2008, at a hearing, Mr. Shaw looked at the families of the two dead scientists and decided he could no longer keep dismissing the phone records that showed he was texting, even though his lawyers advised him to remain quiet. “It hit me that I was being selfish dragging this on,” he said. “I decided I’ve got to do whatever it takes to make this come to an end. If there was anything I could do — spend a year in jail, two years in jail, whatever — I’d do it.”

Leila O'Dell is the widow of a scientist who died in the crash.(Jeffrey D. Allred for The New York Times)

He pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide, but his record will be cleared if he fulfills the sentence imposed by the judge. It included 30 days in jail, 200 hours of community service, and a requirement that he read “Les Misérables” to learn, like the book’s character Jean Valjean, how to make a contribution to society.

Last February, Mr. Shaw spoke to the state House Subcommittee on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, which was considering a ban on texting for motorists. The measure seemed likely to fail given the legislature’s lack of interest in previous such efforts. Then Mr. Shaw stood to talk about his crash and started sobbing.

“I was the one driving and texting,” Mr. Shaw said through tears. “Excuse me. I apologize. I didn’t know the dangers.”

Ms. Warner, the victim’s advocate, said that moment was a turning point. “Before he spoke, some legislators were talking and texting,” she recalled. “After he started talking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”

Under Utah’s law, someone caught texting and driving now faces up to three months in jail and up to a $750 fine, a misdemeanor. If they cause injury or death, the punishment can grow to a felony and up to a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison.

Alaska is the only other state that takes a similarly tough approach to electronic distraction, said Ms. Teigen of the National Conference of State Legislators.

A law passed there in 2007 makes it a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison if a driver causes a fatal accident when a television, video monitor or computer is on inside the car and in the driver’s field of vision. (The law applies to phones used for texting, but not to phones used exclusively for calling or to some other devices, like GPS devices.)

The law, which is less focused on texting than Utah’s, resulted from a 2003 accident in which a driver, who prosecutors said was watching a movie on a video monitor perched on his dashboard, killed two motorists.

These tougher penalties can lead to prickly legal questions.

John Wesley Hall, who just stepped down as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the police might have difficulty proving a driver suspected of texting wasn’t merely dialing a phone. And, he said, there are serious privacy and search issues raised when an officer wants to confiscate a phone.

“The police have no business going into my phone,” he said.

James Swink, the Cache County attorney, expects such challenges, but says that the police in some cases could simply get phone records later, as in the Shaw case.

More broadly, Mr. Swink said, drivers in Utah are now on notice that texting while driving is inherently reckless. And as drivers across the nation become more aware of that notion, he said, judges and prosecutors will feel more comfortable asking for big penalties. He said the Shaw case helped to pave the way.

“Once the word is out there,” he said, “it will become easier for judges to lower the big boom.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Update: Where have we been?

Heya folks, I know we've been gone for a while, but it seems this whole "economic downturn" has finally caught up with us.  There's no better way to put it, but we've kinda sorta run out of games to review. Don't fret (as if you were), however, as several of us have picked up a subscription to GameFly. Can't afford games, might as well rent them.

Also, about the podcast. We're going to be changing things up. Our current format wasn't good for some people, and the last episode got lost due to one of the members disappearing shortly after recording. We'll keep you posted about it's return when we have a chance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Podcast is cursed: More at 11

The podcast has been done for several nights now, however, our hosting service continues to tell us that it's an invalid file type. The podcast is an mp3, and it's playing perfectly well on Winamp and Windows Media player, so we're not quite certain what's going on.

I've rebuilt the MP3 file three times now from the source audio, and the hosting service is being a total ass about it. Hopefully we can get it resolved and uploaded in a timely manner.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Website: Broken Comments Fixed

Looks like all this time, our comments link had been broken due to the site template. Thanks to Cal, our resident Web 2.0 Guru, all's well now. Comment away!

So if you've tried to comment in the past... as long as we've been up, sorry! We're fixed now! 

Also, podcast is coming in tonight or tomorrow. Personal issues kept two of the guys away this week. Also, we're using a different recording method, so it'll not sound like ass.
Till then, keep fraggin!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Impression: Warhammer Online

I'm a long time player of WoW, and every once in a while, I'll get through all the current content that there is, and get bored. I've reached that point currently, and I'm looking for something to replace Warcraft until the Ulduar patch comes out, and brings me back for some more boss-slaying goodness. When I reach this point, I normally look for open betas, and free trials on other MMOs to pass the time.

This time, I took up the main competitor to Warcraft, EA/Mythic's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Signing up and downloading the trial was easy enough, and the "realm vs. realm" zone battles seemed intriguing. As I was downloading the game, I read up on the classes a bit, and knew immediately which one I wanted to play. From the description, the Chosen class on the Chaos race seemed awesome, like a melee dps class that could wreck hell on the enemies. The character creation in-game seemed to disagree, labeling them as a tanking class. I was very disappointed, as I hate being a tank, and instead rolled a Marauder. Very early on, the game lets you know that it's focus is PvP. The second quest I got was to participate in a "Scenario" (Battleground for you WoW players) that was pretty much a carbon copy of Arathi Basin with three flags. The UI felt completely like a ripoff of Warcraft, as did the way the marauder class played (mutations = stances for warriors). From the bit of PvP experience the game allowed me to play, it became evident that the tank classes are indeed tanks... but less like the "stand behind me while I take the brunt of damage, but deal little myself) and more like an Abram's Tank. Or a Deathknight... or ret pally.

The plate classes can both take a ton of damage, and equally dish it out, which brings to question why even have the light armor melee class at all? The quest system was also uninspired, and the game as a whole currently feels rather flat. The graphics are low-scale, run on any system like WoW's, but they don't have that stylized feel that keep Warcraft's graphics from aging. Unless the game itself picks up in enjoyment, Warhammer will probably get a Last Impression, and not a Review. I expected more out of Warcraft's chief competitor, but I guess that's why they just merged servers.

First Impression: Wanted: Weapons of Fate

So I haven't posted in god knows when, and some of you may have tuned into podcast and wondered two things:
A. Tsurai's voice is damn sexy
B. What the fuck is he talking about? One Chinese guy versus ten Japanese? Que?

Well I'm here to give you an answer: shut up. It's my analogy and I will cryptically say it as I damn well please. Now onto the topic at hand: Wanted.

Again, shut up. I know the game is not out yet, that's why we have demos. Yes the demos, those grand peeks into the future that actually obscure the general game at hand, but we try them anyway because we want to know what we're about to dip into before we burn that precious money that we don't give banks to due to the issues of trust-funds and other frauds. Good times.

Those of you who are fans of the comics or the movie probably anticipated Warner Brothers would be whoring the title for more cash, and they have: "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" places you into the position of Wesley Gibson, the self-proclaimed bastard child of a legendary assassin. During the course of the game you will progress as both Wesley and his father, Cross. During the demo, you'll progress through a very small portion of the larger storyline (hopefully) whereas in the tutorial, you will play as Wesley.

The game itself is a standard Third-Person Shooter: take for cover, shoot, flank, suppression, etc. Probably the two features that set this game aside from the general 3PS is the ability to run while shooting and curving the path of the bullets, though both features require kills in order to build up a type of gauge to deplete while performing these actions. Aside from that, you have your standard difficulties, appropriately labeled as such: Pussy, Assassin, and The Killer. Sadly, you will only get to play on Pussy for the demo, how iconic.

The only issue one will come across is graphics. Developed by GRIN, who seems to have only developed a handful of games, the graphics fit the settings at hand but still could use some tweaking; however, the game is bound to release on the 24th of March, so that cry will go unanswered.

Despite the simplistic game play and average graphics, the game still has it's "in-your-face" attitude, including moments where Wesley humiliate the player for wasting his/her pathetic existence away with video games and being an overall failure of humanity. While myself and others know this to be another franchise cow Warner wants to milk dry, I still intend to buy this game for all it's success/failures. I hope others will to, otherwise: "What the fuck have you done lately?"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Commentary: The Future of Gaming

I used to read a lot of gaming magazines (most likely due to the fact that my brother had a subscription to PCgaming and often had them lying all about his apartment for my boredom convinience). At some point later on, after reading many of those magazines, I was playing Bioshock and thought to myself "didn't I read about this like, 3 years ago? How long has this game been in production?"

I got to thinking about how the particular article I had read claimed that this 'new and amazing game!' was going to feature things like, the ability to create your own abilities by combining other abilities and mutating your genes, realistic physics, and a very twisted plotline that allowed you to be whoever you wanted throughout the game. It sounded pretty amazing.

Now, bioshock IS a good game, don't get me wrong, but it definately didn't quite meet what they had said it would. I thought to myself, "What happened!? Where did these features go!? Did they erase them or did they never have them in the game to begin with?"

I suddenly felt let down, and then I thought, dangerously, about the other articles I had read about games yet to be released, things like Hybrid and Deep Space, Fable 2, Ghostbusters, all titles that are reported to be absolutely amazing for X number of reasons. Would they fall down on the job to?

I remember hearing about Warhammer, early on, and how it would have a system in-game that would cause the game mobs to come together and form societies that would grow if unchecked, and eventually attack player cities. A feature that I think we'd all agree sounds pretty awsome, except it was scrapped, apparantly, so they could spend more time on PVP objectives.

I feel like every game is striving to re-revolutionize the industry with some new level of graphics, control scheme or in-game feature. All of which they spend too much time on perfecting (usually not even into perfection) while other features get overlooked and shrivel up like an unwatered house plant. How many more games are going to be released that are to easy, too short, or too clunky before designers realize that this isn't working?

Many gamers ask why people keep playing games like, World of Warcraft and Half-Life 2, and the answer is quite simple. No one yet has done something better. Instead, they try to re-make the same game only with better graphics or control schemes.

Ultimately, we as gamers are at the mercy of the developer, but we also will determine, always, what is popular. A new feature or control scheme will not be the deciding factor of what makes a game better than another. The only deciding factor is if it's accepted by the public, by us.