Even though two-thirds of BYU students are not from Utah, students need to obey and understand driving and traffic laws while living here.
Provo Police Sgt. Matt Siufanua said speeding laws, criminal mischief, larcenies, thefts and frauds are usually the same wherever you go. However, there are some laws that are different for Utah. For instance, there is no law in Utah against sitting in the back of a moving truck whereas in California such activity is illegal.
Utah drivers are subject to the Utah Point System. The Utah State Courts website said the Driver License Division issues different amounts of points for certain types of traffic violation convictions. A person’s driving record will receive 37 to 75 points for speeding, depending on the severity of the infraction. It’s 60 points for tailgating, 50 points for running a red light or stop sign and 80 points for reckless driving. More points usually means a higher insurance rate, but that’s not the only problem – an accumulated 200 points within a three-year period carries a requirement for the driver to appear in court for a hearing, possible probation or suspension for three months. Suspension will be longer if 300 or more points are accumulated.
However, the point thresholds are different for drivers under 21. At only 70 points drivers have to appear for a hearing, and will face possible probation or suspension for 30 days. The more points accumulated, the harsher the punishment.
After one year of clean driving, half of the points will be taken off a driving record. After two years, all of the points will be removed. Affected drivers can attend an approved defensive driving course once in a three-year period and have 50 points subtracted.
Drivers will also receive points for not yielding the right-of-way to “a pedestrian lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk,” as stated in the Utah Code.
Once a pedestrian gets halfway in the adjacent lane, drivers are required to stop and yield to the pedestrian, Siufanua said. He recommends a rule of making eye contact to avoid accidents when pedestrians make what he calls a walk of faith.
Another important law for drivers was passed in 2009 prohibiting texting while driving. Utah is one of 34 states with a ban on text messaging, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The Utah Code states: “a person may not use a handheld wireless communication device for text messaging or electronic mail communication while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway in this state.”
While texting and emailing while driving are illegal in Utah, there is no law against talking on the phone.
“In the state of Utah, you can talk while you’re driving and it’s not against the law,” Siufanua said. “However, you cannot text while you’re driving.”
Drivers caught texting face penalties up to three months in jail and as much as $750 in fines. If drivers cause an accident resulting in injury or death, they can be charged with a felony, and up to $10,000 in fines and 15 years in prison.
Siufanua said it is best to not use a phone at all while driving.
“Even when you have a hands-free device, your attention is still split,” he said.
If cell phone use leads to distracted driving, drivers may be charged with the misdemeanor of careless driving. If a person is killed in an accident, the police will subpoena the driver’s phone records and the driver can be charged with negligent homicide.
Under Utah’s Safety Belt Use Law, all drivers and passengers must wear a safety restraint.
“The driver is responsible for unrestrained occupants under the age of 16,” according to the Utah Department of Public Safety. “However, unrestrained occupants who are 16 and older will receive their own citation. If cited, the maximum fine is $45.”
The law includes primary enforcement drivers under 19, which means an officer can stop the vehicle for an occupant not wearing a seat belt. For drivers and passengers 19 or older, citations can only be given if the vehicle has already been detained for something else like speeding.
Utah is one of 32 states (and the District of Columbia) that doubles the fine for traffic violations, speeding specifically, in a work zone.
Guidelines for cell phone usage from the Utah Department of Public Safety website:
- If possible, dial the phone when the vehicle is not in motion, such as at a traffic light or stop sign.
- If you use a wireless phone a lot while driving, consider getting a hands-free device.
- Learn to operate the phone without looking at it.
- Never allow a phone conversation to distract you in your driving.
- Keep calls brief.
- While talking, keep your head up and your eyes on the road. Frequently check your mirrors.
- Don’t try to take notes or look up phone numbers while driving.
- If you must look up information, find a safe and legal place to stop, and do your research while the car is not in motion. If you are on the freeway, don’t stop in the emergency lane to do this; instead, exit the freeway and find a safe place to stop on a surface street.