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SALT LAKE CITY — Starting May 13, searching the web, taking a picture and dialing a phone number with your hands while driving will be illegal in Utah.
The new restrictions essentially ban manipulating your phone with your hands, with a few exceptions.
As a Utah Highway Patrol, Lt. Jeff Nigbur regularly sees motorists manipulating their phones to the point of distraction.
"We want you paying attention to the road," he said Wednesday, while driving along I-15 in Salt Lake County.
Starting Tuesday, May 13, manipulating a phone while driving becomes a primary offense.
"All it says in the state statute, on the 13th, is that you cannot manipulate the phone," Nigbur said. "Hopefully common sense will prevail a little bit."
What does he mean by that?
"If you pick up the phone and hit the answer button to talk, I don't see anybody being pulled over for that, necessarily — unless that distracts them so much that they end up in another lane," Nigbur said.
That's the way the UHP plans to approach the new restrictions passed by the legislature during the 2014 session, he said. Other law enforcement agencies may read the law more strictly.
If you pick up the phone and hit the answer button to talk, I don't see anybody being pulled over for that, necessarily — unless that distracts them so much that they end up in another lane.
–Lt. Jeff Nigbur, UHP
According to the law, people can still talk on the phone and hold the phone. But if driver is composing a text, dialing, or working the phone with his or her hands, he or she is breaking the law.
Texting while driving was already illegal. The aim of the new restrictions is to clear up any enforcement confusion that arises when a motorist claims they were doing something other than texting when police pulled them over. The new restrictions essentially bans drivers from manipulating their phones with their hands, with a few exceptions.
Jay McFarland, a co-anchor on KSL Newsradio's "The Browsers", said most newer cars and trucks come with Bluetooth already installed for hands-free communication with a smartphone.
"It's the safest way to go, if you can be completely hands-free," McFarland said.
That's why he decided to install a $70 Bluetooth system in his 2010 pickup truck. It took about 15 minutes, he said, and with one touch of the phone screen he dials by voice command.
"Everyone we've spoken to says that's 100 percent in compliance," McFarland said
The system he purchased requires an auxiliary jack in the car; others attach to older cars through an FM frequency on the radio, or a cassette insert.
Car audio shops can also install a complete system for around $300. "When you call, you hear their voice to the car stereo," McFarland said.
A microphone clipped on the visor picks up his voice.
"This device is everything," McFarland said holding up his smartphone. "It's my navigation system, it's my phone, it's my car stereo. So, why wouldn't I want to sync that through my car stereo, and be completely hands-free?"
His co-anchor, Amy Iverson, has also put some thought into her phone habits while driving so that she's not breaking the law.
"Police said they're going to be looking for us taking our eyes off the road, looking at a screen," Iverson said.
So, she uses her ear buds with her iPhone.
"I usually just put one ear bud in, and I can do everything I need to do with just Siri and my ear buds," Iverson said.
She can answer and receive calls, send and receive texts and get directions by pushing the button on the cord.
To learn more about the new law that restricts drivers from using their cellphone without a hands-free device, and the gadgets that will help you stay in compliance with it, tune into "The Browsers" on KSL Newsradio 102.7FM or 1160AM, Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
"Is answering the phone and hitting the answer button manipulation? Yes, absolutely," Nigbur said. "But is it the intent of the law? I don't think so."
Nigbur said it's unlikely a UHP trooper will pull a driver over for hitting the home button to start or answer a call, as long as it doesn't affect their driving or take their eyes off of the road for an extended time.
Drivers can still dial their phones with their hands during a medical emergency, or while reporting a safety hazard or criminal activity. On-the-job law enforcement and emergency personnel are also allowed to use their hands.
"We would still encourage any type of hands-free device if it all possible," Nigbur said.
He said the UHP will start with an enforcement blitz Tuesday, focusing on education at first. They'll hand out citations later, after motorists have some time to adjust to the new restrictions.
For more information about the new law, and the gadgets that will help you stay in compliance with it, tune into "The Browsers" on KSL Newsradio 102.7FM or 1160AM, Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.