After closing New York Times reporter Matt Richtel’s compelling book A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, I couldn’t help but think of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Both chronicle the story of a crime. If you’ve ever read In Cold Blood, you know how the story builds with palpable suspense. The same is true here. The crime, though, isn’t coldblooded murder, but something seemingly more mundane: a car accident on a hillside in Utah that killed two rocket scientists and was caused by a careless teenager. The alleged crime is negligent homicide, because the teenager, Reggie, may have been texting just before the crash.
The accident occurred in 2006, when there was no state law against texting and driving. And in the immediate aftermath of the crash, Reggie vehemently denies being on his phone. But soon law enforcement officers aren’t so sure they believe him. What follows is a detailed reporting of the ensuing legal battle—and the effects it has on the key players on both sides.
Along the way, Richtel makes a sinister suggestion: This accident could have happened to anyone. By meeting with neuroscientists who study the science of distraction, Richtel provides a powerful backdrop that explains the significance of Reggie’s accident. It is important not only for the people involved and the driving laws in Utah, but also for all of us out in the everyday world with our phones, those tiny devices constantly demanding attention. When does wandering attention cross the line? When do each of us become, against our better judgment, dangerous?