Distracted driving drill

An assembly warning students not to text and drive was held on the Royals football field at Roy High School in Roy on Friday, October 31, 2014. The Roy City police department and fire department and others participated in the event.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sponsors will try again with a bill restricting Utah drivers to hands-free phone use only.

“People will no longer be able to hold and manipulate their phone,” Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross said Thursday. “Whether talking or texting, holding the phone would be prohibited.”

Existing law bans texting while driving, but the bill proposed for the 2019 legislative session would extend it to all “manual manipulation” of a phone, with a few exceptions.

Phone use would be permitted if the device is mounted on the windshield, dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder view of the road.

A single swipe or tap of a finger on a dash-mounted phone would still be allowed to activate or deactivate a phone, such as answering or ending a call.

“There’s not a single law enforcement officer who does not feel that manipulating a phone and taking hands off the wheel and pushing a bunch of buttons is very dangerous,” Ross said Wednesday in remarks to the Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

Ross, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said the bill is needed to reduce the frequency of distracted-driving crashes and give police a law that would be easier to enforce.

Said a co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss: “It’s less about punishing phone users and more about getting folks to focus on driving.”

Sen. Luz Escamilla said the bill is a good compromise. Drivers still could legally make emergency calls or use the phone while the vehicle is not on a road.

Four years ago, a driver ran a red light and hit a car with Escamilla’s 10-year-old daughter inside. The child was seriously injured, and police could not prove the driver was texting, Escamilla said.

“I was very frustrated not to see accountability and justice,” Escamilla said.

Ross said the law change would make it easier for officers to spot illegal phone use.

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation also supports the bill, said a local representative of the national group, Greg Douglas of Utah County.

“It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s good enough for now,” Douglas said. “With handheld devices that are mounted, people can talk and still pay attention to what’s going on around them.”

The state Highway Safety Division said there were more than 5,700 distracted-driving crashes in Utah in 2016, resulting in 3,300 injuries and 27 deaths.

A resident testified to the committee that she had an old car that would not easily accommodate hands-free phone use. She said police should focus more on speeding as well as other distractions such as flashing billboards.

Sponsors acknowledged that hands-free phone use is no panacea, but phones are the root of the problem.

“There is evidence that shows even having conversations can be a distraction,” Ross said.

“We are not arguing or saying that this is the worst form of distracted driving or that this will fix distracted driving,” Ross said. But this (manual use of phones) is arguably the most common, constant distraction. That is why we are focusing on this.

“People can easily make a minor change and still conduct their lives,” he said.

Previous versions of the bill have been killed three times. Most recently, House Bill 64 died in the House Transportation Committee last winter.

“I’ve always felt that at some point we will all have had enough of the problems this is creating,” Ross said. “It’s truly about protecting people and saving lives.”

(5) comments

washed

Really?! In the land of Liberty, the home of the free and the land of the brave everyone just wants to have a Nanny state tell them when they can make a phone call and when they can't?
Don't complain when you get a California Nanny state (Facism) that tells you everything you can and can't do. Get all the vacinnes we tell you to, no opting out, we know best, just accept the risk.
Are you telling me you can't use judgement to decide when to place a call (like, say, at a stoplight, or while still in the driveway)? What about adjusting your radio buttons; isn't that dangerous too? Do you want the State to tell you when you can do that? Do you want to pull over to get a kleenex? Don't be fools.
If someone does cause an accident by allowing themselves to be distracted by a phone, a kleenex, a bee, the radio, a pretty girl, sleepiness, whatever, then they are distracted. The price of Liberty is being responsible for your own actions which is why we have insurance. Don't trade your liberty for security, our Founding Fathers told us rightly when you do that, you get neither. Stop playing into the hands that want to control you. I am ashamed of my countrymen that want overregulation.
That said, I do kind of miss the safety inspections, those are reasonable and I can still make a phone call and it assures the other guys car is in good working order; but this doesn't apply the other way. You buy a CP for the purpose of using it while you are mobile. Don't ruin America.
If you want complete safety, check into prison or a mental ward instead of being a free man and accepting the responsibility that goes with it.

larry1clark

It's a little alarming that even though handling and operating a hand-held device (phone) while driving is unsafe the bill has failed in previous attempts in the State Legislature. And every vehicle can be compatible or made compatible for hands-free with the purchase of a blue tooth device. So this public safety issue has trouble getting passed yet the .05 BAC DUI law, where there is absolutely no, zero, proven issue passed with flying colors. Something wrong with our Legislature? Vehicle Safety Inspections - no longer required - yet they are definitely a Public Safety Issue. Again - something wrong here?

Sabbatical

L1C..you nailed it..well spoken!

Mack

Sabbatical

L1c..If i may add..Our lawmakers are afraid of not being elected if they take phones out of cars and hands...end of story!

Mack

Sabbatical

Houston..we have a problem! It is a really easy....no phone while driving. California..1st offense, $350. I drove to the Bay Area a short time ago I did not see anyone on the phone, pretty refreshing!!

Mack

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