Legislator wants tougher law against driving with cellphone in hand

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker wants drivers to put down their phones while driving. If passed, her bill could assess a driver a $100 fine if they get caught talking with the receiver in their hand.

But recent studies show that using hands-free technology also is distracting.

“I think we’ve all experienced having someone in front of us, at a stop sign, going forward or a stoplight, drifting in and out of lanes,” said Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Holladay.

That’s why she wants drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.

“It’s very pervasive, in neighborhoods and out on the freeway, and it’s very dangerous,” Spackman-Moss said.

Whether it be Bluetooth or speakerphone, House Bill 64 would require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

“I’m not trying to eliminate talking while driving entirely, although it would be the safest thing to do,” Spackman-Moss said. “Holding the phone while driving with one hand is not safe, and two hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road, that’s the ideal for safe driving.”

Using mobile devices when behind the wheel is already illegal, but her proposed law would allow law enforcement to pull over drivers for only that reason.

“Ideally, if you have to talk, pull over on the side of the road,” she said.

She said 15 states have already passed a similar law and many of them have pretty severe fines.

“I’m not trying to put a lot of fines on people, but rather to encourage them to put that phone down,” Spackman-Moss said.

But she said it's too much to expect all drivers to pull over, and that is a point of concern among some safety experts.

A study conducted by the University of Utah for AAA found in-car technology, including devices that allow hands-free phone calls, still take drivers' attention off the road for more than 24 seconds.

“Talking hands-free is still distracting, you’re absolutely right,” said Roylane Fairclough, a traffic safety advocate. “But it’s not as distracting as when you’re manipulating your phone.”

Fairclough said it's too much of an expectation for drivers to hang it up completely. She said Moss's bill is an important step to safer roads.

“This is also a good law because it makes people more aware of distraction,” Fairclough said.

Spackman-Moss said she's already getting a lot of positive response about the bill. She said it's nonpartisan and about safety, so she hopes there won't be a lot of opposition come February.


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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.


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