ST. GEORGE – Tighter restrictions on distracted driving go into effect across the state at midnight Tuesday.
The new restrictions passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, are meant to make an otherwise hard-to-enforce law, more enforceable.
“The texting while driving law is hard to enforce,” St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton previously told St. George News. Thus far the law has primarily focused on texting, and officers actually have to see a driver texting, not simply manipulating buttons on a phone.
As of midnight, that will change.
Once the clock strikes midnight, drivers may not do the following while their vehicles are in motion:
- Compose, read, or send a text message, email, or instant message
- Enter a phone number
- Access or surf the Internet
- View or record images and video
- Manipulate applications on the phone or wireless handheld device
However, drivers may do the following while their vehicles are in motion:
- Answer calls and talk
- Use hands free devices for phones
- Use a GPS or navigation application on a phone if needed
- Report emergencies, road hazards, criminal activity
Violations of the law can lead to a class-C misdemeanor and a $100 fine. If a person is injured due to distracted driving, the driver could face a class-B misdemeanor, which entails a possible $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
See text of the the law and the new restrictions here:
- Careless driving defined, prohibited – Utah Code Section 41-6a-1715 as amended 2014
- Prohibition on using a handheld wireless communication device while driving – Utah Code Section 41-6a-1716 as amended 2014.pdf
The tighter restrictions come in the wake of a public awareness campaign started by the Henson family of St. George. Last year, David and Leslee Henson were involved in an accident triggered by an alleged distracted driver who was texting. The accident killed David Henson and left Lelsee Henson severely injured. As Leslee Henson recovered, she and her family launched a statewide campaign called “Stop the text, Stop the wrecks.”
The campaign led to many anti-texting signs being placed in St. George and the surrounding area. They also contacted state Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, about tightening distracted driver laws in the state. Urquhart, along with state Rep. Don Ispon, R-St. George, sponsored Senate Bill 253 in the state Legislature where it ultimately passed.
The City of St. George and the St. George Police Department also created the “Heads Up, Thumbs Up,” campaign to continue to bring awareness to the risk of distracted driving and also highlighted the new restrictions about to become law.
As for whether or not local law enforcement will change how it handles distracted drivers, St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said: “It’ll be business as usual.”
If you get caught breaking the law, you’ll be cited, he said.
Though the new law does have exceptions that allow someone to have a phone in hand while driving, Stratton recommended drivers keep the phone out of their hands entirely.
“You shouldn’t have a cell phone in your hand and manipulating it while driving,” Stratton said. “There’s not a phone call, not a text message that is important enough … to endanger not only yourself but all the other people out there.”
Ed. Note: Information regarding potential penalties has been corrected.
- City declares April ‘Distracted Driving Awareness Month’
- Perspectives: Distracted driving, the nanny state at the local level
- St. George to fight distracted driving after local tragedy; STGnews Videocast
- Victim’s family brings ‘No Texting’ traffic signs to St. George
- Two pedestrians collaterally injured in two-car collision
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