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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Representatives voted 32-41 against a bill to make handheld use of cellphones while driving a criminal offense.
House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, is the sponsor of HB13. The bill would require drivers to only use cellphones hands-free using speakerphone, bluetooth earpieces or integrated dashboard systems. Moss said a bluetooth earpiece costs only $11 and it would allow those without cars equipped with bluetooth to comply with the bill.
"Good laws with strict enforcement and education change behavior," Moss said.
After a lengthy discussion on the House floor, Moss said a lot of people were trying to rationalize why it is okay to continue to using and holding their cellphones while driving.
"I’m a little bit frustrated because this bill is really simple, it’s being done for one reason only and that is the current law cannot be enforced because it's not a primary offense," Moss said.
She said in the 47 states that have outlawed texting while driving, all but four classify it as a primary offense.
Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, said her first reaction to the bill was no, but she realized she regularly breaks the law while using her cellphone in her car, even stating she is probably the worst cellphone user in the room. She said the bill has already helped her.
"I know I’m a dangerous driver when I’m using my cellphone in the car, and I’ve had some near misses, and so I decided that I was not going to use my cellphone in the car anymore unless it was through bluetooth, and I’ve discovered that I have survived and I don't need to answer that text right now," Judkins said.
Some lawmakers questioned the penalty in the bill, which is a class C misdemeanor or a class B misdemeanor when bodily injury is caused. That would allow judges to impose both jail time and fines for offenses.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said this is the same penalty for other driving offenses including reckless driving, racing and driving without insurance. He said driving while using a cellphone is similar to those in the amount of danger caused.
Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Provo, spoke against the bill. He said there are bigger issues causing driving fatalities than cellphones, like excessive speed and not using seatbelts. He also said the distraction from talking on the phone next to your ear and hands-free are the same, both equal to being drunk at .08 percent.
“If you talk on the phone, you drive like a drunk and that’s what the data shows," Robertson said.
Moss said fatalities have dropped in every state that has passed a hands-free law.
"It will be only a slight inconvenience for those of you who are not already using your phone hands-free and we want to see our children (and) grandchildren to be safe when they’re driving in our increasingly congested freeways and streets, so we must set that example," Moss said.