80 mph speed zones among bills that pass to make Utah roads safer

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers passed several bills Tuesday to try and make Utah's roads safer. Among the key bills were new 80 mph speed zones, a smoking ban for adults with kids in the car, and a cell phone ban for teen drivers.

"I think we did relatively well. It's not perfect, but that's politics — politics is not perfect," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Brigham City.

Twenty people died on Utah roads last year because they were distracted.

89 percent of the public surveyed thinks that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous.

–Rep. Lee Perry, R- Brigham City

"Eighty-nine percent of the public surveyed thinks that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous," Perry said.

Teens know it, too.

"It causes a lot of accidents when people get distracted when they're driving," said teen driver Alex Serrato.

The teens surveyed support HB103, which bans Utahns under 18 from talking on a cell phone while driving unless there's an emergency or they are talking to a parent. The fine is $25.

Bill sponsor Perry is also a lieutenant in the UHP.

"I think it will make a huge difference because under our graduated driver's license laws that we passed over the last 10 years, we've made a 52 percent reduction in fatal and serious crashes with youth," Perry said.

Kids lungs are different than ours. They are still developing and they breathe at a faster rate so it's much more harmful for a child. Also a child can't choose.

–Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City

Lawmakers also banned smoking if there's is a child under age 16 in the car.

"This is a bill to protect children," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. "We know that second-hand smoke in a car is very, very dangerous."

The reason for the smoking ban is that the car is considered too tight a space to be trapped with smoke. It's a secondary offense. For the first year the law is in place, officers will only hand out warnings. Once the $45 fine goes into effect, the smokers can avoid the penalty if they take a class to help them quit smoking.

"Kids' lungs are different than ours," Arent said. "They are still developing and they breathe at a faster rate, so it's much more harmful for a child. Also, a child can't choose."

Lawmakers also overwhelmingly passed a bill that allows UDOT to raise the speed limit to 80 mph on the interstates leading to Idaho, Wendover and St. George.

"We've actually seen a reduction of crashes of 11 percent in one test area, and 20 percent in another test area," said James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

There have been no fatalities in the four years of data from the test zone in central Utah. Speeds will likely rise July 1, and lawmakers urge motorists to buckle up.

"It's going to take a lot more responsibility as drivers to go 80 mph," Perry said.

But the legislature rejected a seat belt bill that would have made it a primary offense not to buckle up on high-speed roads. Gov. Gary Herbert's office is expecting the bills to arrive later this week for his signature. They don't see any red flags, but Herbert will take a close look.

Lawmakers also raised the fine for littering from $100 to $200 on the first offense, and doubled it to $500 on the second offense. That law targets people who don't secure their loads and lose everything from coolers to sofas on the highway.


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Jed Boal


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