Law banning teen cell use while driving to go into effect

May 11 2013 - 9:42pm

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah law banning teens younger than 18 from using a cellphone while driving becomes effective Tuesday.

The law, House Bill 103 sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Brigham City, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, is designed to protect new drivers from distraction as they develop and hone their driving skills.

While the new law prohibits drivers up to 18 years old from talking on a cellphone, there are exceptions designed to maintain safety.

These exceptions include using a cell hone to report a medical or safety hazard, to request assistance related to a safety hazard, to report criminal activity, to request assistance related to a criminal activity or to communicate with a parent or legal guardian, said Rolayne Fairclough, Utah AAA spokeswoman.

There is a $25 fine for the offense, which is a nonreportable violation.

Fairclough said this is the newest law directed at teen drivers. Previous laws include the Graduated Driving Laws, which include extra hours of practice time before getting a license, a passenger limitation component and a nighttime ban for new drivers.

An anti-texting law for all drivers also makes the driving experience safer for teens.

Laws designed to protect teens during their early years of driving are effective. According to the Utah Highway Safety Office's 2010 Utah Crash Summary, teen fatal crashes have declined 53 percent since the first Graduated Driver Licensing Law was enacted.

"Even though teen fatal crashes have been reduced through teen driving laws, we know young drivers are still overly represented in crashes. Teens make up 8 percent of the drivers but were in 21 percent of all crashes in Utah," said Perry, who is a lieutenant with the Utah Highway Patrol.

"This law addresses a major safety concern we have with young drivers. We know from recent surveys that the majority of high school students admit to talking on a cellphone while driving," he said.

"Cellphone use is the leading driver distraction in Utah. A number of businesses recognize this and are now banning their employees from using a cellphone while driving on company business," Hillyard said.

"This new cellphone law, coupled with the anti-texting law, will help keep driver distractions at a minimum, resulting in safer roads for all Utahns," he said.

But for some the law comes late.

"No one can tell me that you can safely use a cellphone and drive," said Elissa Schee, mother of a child recently killed out of state when a trucker, talking on a cellphone, hit the school bus in which she was riding.

"My daughter was in a big, yellow school bus. The trucker, who hit the bus, admitted he did not see it, even though he was following the bus. That is what cognitive distraction causes when you are using a cellphone and trying to drive," said Schee, who recently moved to Utah.

"We hope that this law will give parents the opportunity to talk with their teen drivers and explain that using a cellphone while driving is not an option for their family," Fairclough said, a legislative advocate for the law.

"Changing behavior is difficult, but if everyone on the road recognizes the importance of driving without distraction and reminds others to concentrate on their driving, our roads will be safer," Fairclough said.

AAA Utah offers a wide array of automotive, travel, insurance, DMV, financial services and consumer discounts to more than 183,000 members. AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers since being founded more than 100 years ago.

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