PROVO — The Utah House is advancing a new bill that may change the way you drive. The proposed bill aims to better enforce laws banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving in the state of Utah. The proposed law would make holding a phone while driving – whether the driver is texting or talking on the phone – a primary offense.
The House endorsed the bill and forwarded it to the Senate on Monday. The bill overcame previous arguments that the legislation would do little to change driver behavior or would interfere too much with personal freedom.
Phone use while driving has been illegal in Utah since 2007, but can only be enforced simultaneously with another moving violation, such as speeding or running a red light. According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, distracted driving caused more than 5,000 crashes in 2016, and resulted in 27 deaths.
Sheridan Sheperd is one of the two million drivers who would be affected by this bill. Sheperd has been in several car accidents on Beehive State roads. “I have been rear-ended by distracted drivers multiple times, and every time it has been a traumatic experience for me,” says Sheperd.
The drivers who have hit Sheridan have all been on their phones and were too distracted to pay attention to the car in front of them. Sheperd says, “One time my car was totaled and I couldn’t get around for weeks.” Accidents like hers are what bill HB101 is trying to prevent.
Democratic Rep., Carol Moss, is the bill’s sponsor. She says, “This is about changing habits. It’s not hard.”
Moss pushed the bill for years despite its previous failure. Polls showed three of every four state residents favored the measure.
The latest version of the bill received support from the Utah Highway Patrol, police chiefs, bus drivers, insurance companies and motorcycle groups. Changes to the new bill include reducing penalties many republicans said were too harsh.
Under the updated bill, a first offense would only be an infraction, rather than the earlier proposed misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail along with a hefty $750 fine.
Sheperd hopes that the bill will protect others on the road from distracted drivers.
She says, “I think it will prevent a lot of accidents and tragedies that don’t need to happen.”
Now that the Utah House has endorsed the bill, it moves to the Senate and will be voted on later this month.
Check out the status of the bill here: https://le.utah.gov/~2020/bills/static/HB0101.html