SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation to make holding and using a phone while driving a primary offense cleared a Senate committee Monday and is now one step closer to becoming law after years of languishing.
HB101 sponsor House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee that thousands of people are injured on Utah roads each year — many of them from distracted driving.
“We want to improve safety. It isn’t to restrict anybody’s rights to talk or things they already do,” Moss said.
The bill wouldn’t prevent drivers from tapping or swiping their phones to answer a call or contact Siri, nor would it prevent them from speaking on the phone. They just wouldn’t be able to hold the phone in their hand while driving. Instead, Moss said drivers could put their phones on speaker or use a Bluetooth device.
Hand-held use of cellphones while driving has been illegal in Utah since 2007, but enforcement is challenging as it can only be enforced when an additional traffic violation is committed concurrently.
Moss said every branch of law enforcement supports the bill as do other first responders, motorcyclist groups and insurance companies.
“There’s not a firefighter, or current medic, or EMT who hasn’t been in the back of an ambulance with somebody that’s been injured severely because of a distracted driver,” Unified Fire Capt. Jay Torgersen said.
He implored the committee to give Unified Fire Authority’s law enforcement partners the ability to enforce distracted driving laws.
There’s not a firefighter, or current medic, or EMT who hasn’t been in the back of an ambulance with somebody that’s been injured severely because of a distracted driver.
–Unified Fire Capt. Jay Torgersen
Some lawmakers challenged Moss on whether the bill would actually prevent or discourage distracted driving during House debate last week.
There was no mention of these arguments among the committee Monday, in fact members vocalized their support.
Sen. Ronald Winterton, R-Roosevelt, said similar legislation has been proven to save lives, and cited the federal government’s decision to make this a law for commercial drivers.
“I think the general public are very lax in paying attention to what’s going on around them,” Winterton said. “I think that we can hold them to the same standard as our professionals.”
Moss said that when she started trying to get this passed several years ago just 13 states had similar laws — that number has leaped to 22 today.
“This bill will save lives and that’s the reason I have stayed with this for this many years,” she said.
The legislation passed 5-1 and will head off to the full Senate for debate.