State legislator looking at easing up on distracted driving laws

State legislator looking at easing up on distracted driving laws

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SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker wants to pull back a distracted driving law passed last year that prohibits dialing a cellphone and other activities with hand-held electronic devices while driving.

Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said the law goes too far and is hard for police to enforce. It comes down to a driver's word against an officer's word as to what was going on behind the wheel, he said.

"Unless you're going to actually require someone to have a body-cam while driving, it is impossible to effectively enforce," he told the House Transportation Committee on Thursday.

In 2014, the Legislature made it illegal 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.

Anderegg said drivers are putting their cellphones on their laps to skirt the law, taking their eyes off the road and making them more dangerous than if they were holding the phone in their hand.

HB63 would allow drivers to make or receive cellphone calls and use a device for GPS or navigational services and listening to music, including using a music app to access the Internet. It would prohibit accessing the Internet; composing, sending or viewing texts, videos and email; as well as manually entering data into an electronic device.

The bill also bumps violations from class B to class A misdemeanors.

Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Doug McCleve said troopers would have a hard time enforcing the law on the freeway.

"The challenge for us is being able to articulate what we're seeing," he told the committee. He said troopers could become distracted trying to figure out what a driver is doing.

Anderegg said he's anecdotally aware that courts are throwing out tickets for distracted driving because police can't meet the burden of proof under the current law.

McCleve said the UHP has issued 1,086 warning and citations, but he didn't have statistics on whether tickets are being dismissed.

Several transportation committee members wanted more data on the court outcomes before endorsing the bill. The committee voted 7-6 to hold it for a future meeting.

Dennis Romboy

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