New bill would ban phone calls while driving, unless with hands-free devices

Saturday , January 27, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

JACOB SCHOLL, Standard-Examiner Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed bill in the state Legislature would ban all cellphone use while driving with the exception of using hands-free devices if passed.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, submitted House Bill 64 in December 2017, and the bill was read to the House Rules Committee on Monday. Moss said Wednesday she hopes the bill will pass the committee later this week. 

She said using a cellphone while driving is a secondary offense in Utah. This means drivers can only be cited if they are also cited for something else, like speeding or causing an accident. 

Moss said she was almost in a car crash recently because a pickup truck driver cut her off while talking on the phone. 

“Everyone has a story about this,” Moss said. “It’s something that drives people crazy.”

Moss said she’s not trying to stop people from talking while driving, and she said hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets — which would be legal to use under her bill — are cheap and widely available. 

“My goal is to have people drive with two hands,” Moss said. 

If the bill passes and becomes law, Utah would become the 15th state to ban hand-held cellphone usage while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lt. Brian Eynon of the Ogden Police Department said he’s supportive of the bill and said going hands-free is a good thing. 

Eynon said if the bill passes, enforcing the new law will be the same as the current distracted-driving law. 

When police observe someone driving while distracted, they perform a traffic stop whenever possible, Eynon said. 

Capt. Danielle Croyle, OPD public information officer, said in an email Thursday that Ogden police issued 74 citations for distracted driving in 2017. 

In 2016, Weber County had the third-highest percentage of car crashes caused by distracted driving, according to a study by the Utah Department of Public Safety.

RELATEDUtah Highway Patrol experimenting with method to catch distracted drivers

The Utah Highway Patrol recently experimented with new methods to catch distracted drivers while on major highways. 

On July 13, 2017, UHP tested a pilot program where troopers in large vans would watch out of the van’s windows for people texting while driving. If they saw someone texting, those in the van would alert a trooper farther up the road so they could stop the distracted driver. 

UHP Public Information Officer Marissa Cote said troopers executed a total of 40 traffic stops that day: 33 stops were for distracted drivers, six were for not wearing a seatbelt and one was for driving while intoxicated. 

Despite the apparent success of the pilot program, Cote said it is not something UHP does regularly. Cote said she was not sure if the highway patrol plans to use the vans again in the future. 

Contact reporter Jacob Scholl at jscholl@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Scholl.

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