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Senate approves bill to restrict cellphone use while driving



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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah drivers would be further restricted on how they use cellphones under a bill the state Senate passed Monday.

"Currently, our texting law is ambiguous," said Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsor of SB253.

While state law prohibits texting while driving, it doesn't address using cellphones or handheld electronic devices for other purposes. The bill would ban sending email, dialing a phone number, accessing the Internet, watching or recording video and entering data from behind the wheel. It does not outlaw using a device for global positioning or navigation services.

Urquhart said the distracted driving law is hard to enforce because drivers tell police they weren't texting but doing something else with their phones.

Drivers could still talk on their cellphones while driving but would have to use voice activation to dial a number, he said.

The Senate passed the bill 17-8. It now moves to the House.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, was among those voting against the measure, calling it well-intended but unnecessary. The distracted driving law already covers behavior behind the wheel, she said.

"If we start listing what we can and can't do, then we need to start listing if we can eat hamburgers, if we can be changing our CDs, if we can be handing things to our children in the back," Dayton said. "The assumption is everything that isn't listed is allowed."

Urquhart ran the bill at the request of the family of David and Leslee Henson.

The couple was walking on the sidewalk along Dixie Drive in St. George last March when a car that was rear-ended by an allegedly texting driver slammed into them, killing 57-year-old David almost immediately as he pushed his wife away from the impact.

Leslee Henson suffered fractures in her back and neck, and required more than 5,000 stitches and minor facial reconstruction surgery.

Washington County prosecutors charged a 50-year-old woman with automobile homicide involving using a handheld wireless communication device while driving.

Since the accident, Leslee Henson has spoken in schools and met with police agencies about distracting driving. Her three children — Haley Warner, Lindsey Mackay and Blake Henson — started StopTheTextsStopTheWrecks.blogspot.com. The family joined the St. George police in a multimedia public awareness effort called "Heads up, Thumbs up."

Dennis Romboy

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