SALT LAKE CITY — Utah law enforcement officers will begin cracking down on texting and driving Tuesday when a new law designed to prevent distracted driving takes effect.
The new law states that Utahns cannot use their cellphones for dialing while driving, according to Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, who sponsored the bill in the state Legislature this past session.
“The current law isn’t too terribly enforceable, so in this law, we have added some clarification, we’ve tightened the language, so hopefully it is enforceable," Urquhart said.
On Tuesday it will remain lawful to look up contact information, use voice commands, view GPS or navigation coordinates and talk on the phone while driving.
It will be unlawful to send, write or read text messages, instant messages or email; dial a phone number; access the Internet; view or record a video; and type in data on a smartphone or other mobile device.
For University of Utah student John Schappler, the new driving law is just enough motivation to kick his bad habit.
“I definitely find myself distracted a lot of the time if I’m ever trying to answer a text message while I drive," Schappler said. "I know that’s definitely not a good thing to be doing and it's super distracting, and I think if there was a law about it that would probably help me out … and just be like that extra little boost that I need to not do it anymore.”
Schappler, 20, said he was recently involved in a fender-bender on his way to work after being more focused on his GPS than the road.
Urquhart decided to push the law after learning that one of his constituents in St. George lost her father to a texting and driving accident that also injured her mother.
Distracted driving accounted for 19 fatalities in 2012, with cellphone usage the No. 1 cause for distraction, according to data provided by the Utah Highway Safety Office. In 2013, 17 fatalities were recorded in Utah with eight due to cell phone usage and texting, according to Gary Mower, a research analyst with the safety office.
Any manipulation of your cellphone or your laptop while you're driving is what we are going to be looking for.
–Todd Royce, Utah Highway Patrol
The law was intended to increase safety by providing a more specific guideline for law enforcement.
"Any manipulation of your cellphone or your laptop while you're driving is what we are going to be looking for,” said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce.
The UHP said on Tuesday drivers can expect to see troopers stopping vehicles and issuing warning citations for texting and driving. A more regular enforcement of the law will follow the brief "educational" enforcement period.
"We don't want to go out and just write everybody tickets on the first day for texting with their cellphone. We're going to do a lot of education. We're going to do a lot of pulling people over," Royce said.
The UHP stressed that safe driving is its main goal. Regardless of the distraction, drivers will get cited if they are a hazard to the cars around them.
“If I pull up next to you and you're on the freeway … and I can see that you are manipulating your cellphone, or typing on your cellphone, or looking at your cellphone while you're driving, then that is probable cause to stop you,” Royce said.
So whether drivers are sending a text or switching music genres, the longer they keep your eyes off the road, the better chance they have at getting pulled over.
“There is no ambiguity in the law, the law says dialing. It’s just a question of what are you going to do to get law enforcement's attention," Urquhart said.
Details of the new law
- Talk on the phone
- View GPS or navigation coordinates
- Use voice commands
- During a medical emergency
- When reporting a safety hazard or criminal activity
- Send, write or read text messages
- Send, write or read instant messages
- Send, write or read email
- Dial a phone number
- Access the internet
- View or record a video
- Enter data into your hand-held device