Utah Legislature passes new driving laws


SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature passed several new driving laws, including laws regarding distracted driving, speed limits, drowsy driving and electric cars.

“Driving is a privilege, not a right,” said Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, earlier in the legislature.

New driving laws, including laws about distracted driving and potential speed limit changes, were passed this year at the legislature.

This opinion was reflected among many of the legislators as they discussed the various driving bills throughout the session. One such bill, SB253, has to do with distracted driving. Bill sponsor Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, described the bill as one that tightens up the current laws concerning texting and driving.

“Currently our texting law is ambiguous,” Urquhart said. “Police have a tough time enforcing it because they’ll pull someone over and say it looked like you were texting, and they’ll say no I was playing solitaire or doing something else on my phone.”

SB253 states that permissible uses of the phone while driving include holding a phone to the ear, accessing a phone number, using voice-activation or GPS. Other uses of a phone while driving are now prohibited. SB253 passed in the last hour of the legislature on a close vote.

HB80, a bill addressing speed limits, also passed this session. For the past five years, studies were conducted testing the feasibility of increasing the speed limit in some areas to 80 mph. Results of the studies determined that despite increasing the speed limits by five mph in the test areas, the average speed of drivers only increased by one or two mph.

With the passage of HB80, the Utah Department of Transportation can now officially change speed limits across Utah to speeds it feels are natural and appropriate in given areas.

“So far we have determined that changing the number on the sign does not change people’s behavior, but we do have in those test sections between 20 and 30 percent greater compliance with the speed limit,” said Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

Dunnigan also said the data showed the increased speed limits did not cause any fatal accidents and did not affect air quality. Dunnigan anticipates speed limit changes will include increasing speed limits from 75 mph to 80 mph in some rural areas and increasing from 65 mph to 70 mph in some urban areas.

Additionally, HB19, a bill affecting the electric car business in Utah, passed unanimously. The current law states that only entities regulated as public utilities and electric corporations are able to sell electricity to the public. HB19 removes that requirement and will allow for more electric charging stations throughout the state.

“Expanding the network of charging stations will give electric vehicle drives the ability to take longer trips and give more people the confidence to purchase electric vehicles,” said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.

Okerlund also said HB19 sends the message that Utah is open for business for electric vehicles, while also sending the message that Utah is serious about cleaning up the air.

The final bill passed concerning driving was SB149, a bill about drowsy driving. This bill doesn’t actually change any penalties or criminal codes concerning drowsy driving but rather aims to raise awareness about drowsy driving by designating the third full week of August as Drowsy Driving Awareness Week. This will be commemorated annually and coincides with the end of the summer months, a time when many people may be driving drowsy as they return home from summer vacations.

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