HB64: hands free cell phone bill fails

Utah saw 5,748 distracted driver crashes in 2016, according to the Governor’s Highways Safety Association. Ten percent of all Utah crashes involve a distracted driver. (Haley Mosher)

HB64, “the hands-free cell phone bill,” which would have made it illegal to drive while holding a cell phone, failed to pass a House Committee on Feb. 9.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, sponsored HB64. The purpose of the bill was to limit accidents caused by distracted driving. The bill was voted against five to three with four representatives absent and will not be passed this legislative session.

Currently, driving while holding and talking on a cell phone is a secondary offense. This means a person cannot be pulled over for talking on their phone, but if they are pulled over for a separate moving violation, talking on a cellphone while driving can be added as secondary offense. HB64 would have made it a primary offense.

Concerns we raised about whether the bill would target lower-income drivers unfairly. Those who have older cars may not have access to Bluetooth technology and would be more likely to be pulled over for talking on a cell phone. However, Moss said she did not think this would be the case. She said she found a Bluetooth device for $11 and that essentially all cell phones are able to be put on speaker phone.

Rep. Justin L. Fawson, R-Ogden, who voted against the bill pointed out there were other forms of distracted driving such as eating and doing makeup that could be just as dangerous not addressed by the bill.

“It’s a difficult balance to strike between public safety and personal rights and liberty,” Fawson said.

Elissa Schee, a mother of a girl who was killed in a car accident caused by a truck driver talking on his cell phone spoke in support of the bill.

“It was not an accident. It was a very violent crash and it was caused by a hand-held phone,” Schee said.

Schee has put together a foundation on behalf of her daughter called Never Forget Margay. She has been fighting for stricter cell phone laws for drivers for the past nine years since the accident.

“I hear a lot of people talk about their rights in their motor vehicles. I would like to know where my daughter’s rights are,” Schee said.

Molly Davis spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of the Libertas Institute. She said there are many other forms of distracted driving and hands-free won’t necessarily make the driver less distracted.

“This bill won’t necessarily make roads any safer because people are still going to talk on their phone but now they are going to be more proactive with hiding it just like with texting,” Davis said.


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