Bill would ban Utah teens from using cell phones while driving

Feb 13 2013 - 7:09pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Elissa Schee lost her 13-year-old daughter to a distracted driver on his cell phone.

The Cottonwood Heights mother spoke Wednesday in support of a bill that would limit cell phone use to drivers 18 or older.

"I do believe this law is a step in the right direction. Teach kids young if you don't get into this habit, then it won't be a hard habit to break when you are of age," Schee said.

Sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, the bill, HB 103, cleared a House committee with a favorable recommendation. It now advances to the House for further consideration.

The measure would make it a misdemeanor for 16 and 17-year-olds to talk and drive. The law would exempt teens if they are using their phones to reach parents or guardians. It would also exempt minors who are in an emergency or reporting a crime.

Perry described the measure as a best practice targeted at reducing potential problems for teen-age drivers. A similar measure passed last session but did not make it through the House before the session ended. Lawmakers did ban texting while driving last year.

A University of Utah study shows a teen on a cell phone is as impaired as a person driving with a 0.8 alcohol level, according to Perry. Another study done in 2010 showed eight percent of Utah drivers where under 18 years of age but were involved in 21 percent of the accidents in the state.

Rep. Edward Redd, R-North Logan, who is deputy medical examiner for Cache County, said he has dealt with the results of distracted people behind the wheel. He said the data generated on the problem is hard to ignore.

Redd challenged the testimony of Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute, who said the measure was a move down the slippery slope of government infringing on personal freedom.

"What do you do with the science? Do you just ignore that?" Redd asked. He said data collected in the last decade has helped people identify potential risks and shouldn't be ignored.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, said one of the reasons government needs to act on some measures is to protect other drivers.



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