SALT LAKE CITY -- A local lawmaker opposes a bill that would make it illegal for teenagers to talk on their cell phones while driving.
"I've struggled with this bill, but I do understand the need for it," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, after the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee vote to approve the bill.
Senate Bill 45, sponsored by Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was approved by the committee Monday with a vote of 3-1, with Jenkins voting against the bill. The bill now goes before the Senate floor for further consideration.
The bill, if it were to become law, would make it an infraction for drivers ages 16 and 17 to talk on cell phones while driving. Currently it is illegal for all drivers to text while driving.
Teenagers who are talking on cell phones while driving would receive an infraction, or a nonreportable offense, and would have to pay a $50 fine, Romero said. It would not affect the teenager's driving record.
Jenkins said he sponsored a bill, which is now law, that makes careless driving a class C misdemeanor.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who is also a member of the committee, voted for the bill, but with reservations.
"Sometimes I think it's too bad we have to legislate good judgment," Adams said.
Adams said when he served as chairman of the State Transportation Commission, each monthly meeting started with the number of fatal accidents for the previous month.
Utah, he said, averaged 20 fatal accidents a month for a time, but with innovations such as cable barriers placed along freeways to prevent head-on collisions and air bags installed in vehicles, those numbers have decreased.
Talking on cell phones, whether it is a hands-free unit or a handheld unit, is "a significant issue," Adams said.
Romero said he is sponsoring the bill because studies have shown teenagers' brains are not as developed, and because teenagers do not have the driving experience.
Romero said 51 percent of all teenage drivers report they have talked on cell phones while driving.
Teenagers comprise 7 percent of all drivers in Utah, but are responsible for 25 percent of injury crashes, according to AAA of Utah.