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New cellphone law tightens restrictions for drivers


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SALT LAKE CITY — A new Utah law goes into effect in six weeks that many change the way many of us drive, and most of the Utahns we talked to hadn't even heard about it yet.

"To focus on the road, to focus on your driving, that's the main intent," said Sgt. Todd Royce, of the UHP, referring to the new cellphone and mobile device restrictions that go into effect May 13.

If you don't already use a hand-free system for your cell phone when you drive, it's time to look into that, or plan to stop using your mobile device altogether behind the wheel.

Texting while driving is already illegal. But current Utah law does not specifically ban us from doing all kinds of other distracting things with our phones — like searching the Web, picking a song, or even dialing a phone number. Starting May 13, that's all illegal.

Utah will essentially have a handheld ban with a few exceptions. The new law bans us from using a cellphone or laptop to send texts, emails or instant messages. You cannot dial phone numbers, access the Web, take or view pictures or video, or enter data into your mobile device.

You can, however, still dial your phone with your hands during a medical emergency, reporting a safety hazard, or reporting criminal activity. On the job law enforcement and emergency personnel are also allowed to use their hands.

We are allowed to use our cellphones and other mobile devices using voice-operated technology, and other systems that are physically or electronically integrated into the car, such as Bluetooth.

"It probably makes sense," said Brett Jenkins, a motorist from West Jordan. "You want to have your attention on the road when you're driving."

He doesn't think he'll have to change his driving habits very much.

"I don't dial or text a lot when I'm driving," he said.

Others will have to make some adjustments or run the risk of a ticket.

Like many people, Kyler Berezay plays music on his smartphone through his car stereo.

"If it's going to be against the law now to change what I listen to in the car, I could see a lot of people being opposed to that."

He thought the texting ban alone was just fine. He thinks the new restrictions go too far.

"I push a button to change the channel on the radio," Berezay said. "It's the same concept with the phone. So, what's the difference?"

We can still use our mobile devices to view GPS, and other mapping programs. We can also still talk with our phones up against our faces. But you have to use voice commands to dial the number.

"We feel it will save some lives out there on the roadway," said Royce.

Eleven people died last year on Utah roads in crashes attributed to distracted driving.

The ultimate responsible driving behavior is 100 percent focus on your driving.

–Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety

Troopers will be on the lookout for people manipulating their cellphones in any way.

"You're probably see a lot of warnings and a lot of education done," Royce said of when the law first goes into effect.

But, when troopers and other police officers start writing tickets, it's a class C misdemeanor with a fine up to $100, or a class B misdemeanor if you cause someone else to get hurt.

Even though you will still be able to use your phone with these new restrictions, Robert Hull, UDOT director of traffic and safety, says setting the phone aside while you drive is always the safest practice.

"The ultimate responsible driving behavior is 100 percent focus on your driving," Hull said.

It is not illegal to use a headset while driving in Utah, so that's an option for some drivers, as long as you're not working the phone with your hands. Of course, you can always pull over, or get off the road when it's safe, to use your phone.

The Department of Public Safety and UDOT are considering different options for public education on the new restrictions..


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Jed Boal


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