Lawmakers revisit distracted driving laws, consider changes

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UTAH – Only one year after new “texting while driving” provisions were amended into the Utah code, a bill is being introduced to the Legislature in its General Session, now underway, seeking revisions to the law.

Proposed changes

Rep. Jacob L. Anderegg, R-Lehi, is asking the House to revisit the law that he believes, he said, is too strict and unenforceable.

In the proposed bill, HB 63, Distracted Driver Amendments, Anderegg is proposing to:

  • provide and amend definitions
  • amend the list of activities taking place in a vehicle during a moving traffic violation that constitutes careless driving
  • amend the list of devices included in the current law
  • amend the list of exceptions to the law
  • amend the penalties for conviction

“What we did last year went too far,” Anderegg said. “I’m not suggesting that we don’t need any sort of distracted driving laws on the books, because we do need them, but honestly what we did was so subjective that it causes legal challenges.”

The amendments are not an attack on distracted driving laws, he said, but rather an attempt at tightening the language in places and removing unenforceable aspects that would give a defendant enough angles to “fight it in court all day long.”

He believes that his proposed amendment would garner a lot of support statewide, Anderegg said, because much of the Legislature was unhappy with the changes that were made in 2014.

“What we did last year was the nanny state at its finest level,” he said. “We feel like we have to pass legislation on every little thing whenever something bad happens  –  and I am not taking away from what happened, my understanding is there was a person killed because someone was texting – and that’s some pretty serious stuff …”

2014 law

On March 10, 2014, SB 253 also titled Distracted Driver Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Stephen H. Urquhart, R-Washington County, and Rep. Don L. Ipson, R-St. George, passed the Senate in a 17-8 vote with 4 not voting . Three days later it passed the House 41-28 with 6 not voting.

According to the floor discussion leading up to last year’s vote, the purpose of the amendment was to strengthen the texting and driving statute.

The catalyst for the 2014 amendments was a March 2013 accident in St. George involving David and Leslee Henson who were out walking when they were both struck by a car that had been rear-ended by another car driven by a woman allegedly texting while driving. David Henson was killed on impact. Carla Lynn Brennan pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter; her case is currently set for review hearing Feb. 4.

The law was passed in the right spirit, Anderegg said, but no amount of legislation is going to “legislate away” accidents that are caused by deficits while driving.

Obviously, it would be completely unacceptable to watch a video while driving, he said, but it is unrealistic to assume that passing a law making it citable would deter people from committing the offense. From drowsy drivers to drunk drivers, laws are passed, but offenses are still committed on a regular basis, he said.

Vickers on 2014 law, 2015 bill

“(Anderegg) is proposing some drastic changes,” said Sen. Evan J. Vickers, R-Beaver, Iron and Washington counties. “First thing is, he is going towards hands-free, and there has been some discussion about that off and on for a number of years.

“The other portion is … he is pretty well doing away with all of the cases that were made last year with Sen. Urquhart and Rep. Ipson.”

There were an “awful lot” of people who were very passionate about making the changes that were made, Vickers said, leaving him no reason to believe that those same people will be any less passionate about their positions this year.

Vickers did not vote for the previous bill because, he said, he felt it would be difficult to follow and difficult to enforce.

“I certainly don’t think you should be texting while driving,” Vickers said. “The bill last year went beyond that to where basically you couldn’t do anything having to do with input in your phone, you couldn’t even look up a contact in your list, and that would be very difficult for people to follow.”

Often times when a new piece of legislation is introduced it is written from a “perfect world” perspective, Vickers said. Meaning, what sounds good on paper is not always as applicable in reality as legislators would like it to be.

“But, I guess that makes for an interesting situation in the Legislature,” he said.

Vickers plans to watch the House to see where this year’s version of Distracted Driver Amendments goes before making a decision about how he will vote, he said.

Urquhart on proposed revisions

While Anderegg expressed confidence that his suggested H.B. 63 revisions will receive support, Urquhart was equally confident that the law he and Ipson worked so hard to pass in 2014 will remain intact.

There is too much data available about the danger of texting and driving for elected state officials to be willing to backtrack on the progress that has been made, Urquhart said.

“(HB 63) allows for manipulation and too much interaction with the device,” Urquhart said. “If people are manipulating a device then that is just where their attention is – there is irrefutable scientific evidence of that, and if people want to manipulate their device then they can pull over and do that.”

The statute in its current state is in need of slight revisions to help with enforcement, Urquhart said, but not to the extent that Anderegg has proposed.

Although the “hands-free” clause in Anderegg’s bill does show promise, Urquhart said, the rest of the bill is an about-face and opens opportunities for recklessness.

He is working on his own revisions, Urquhart said, but the the bill is not prepared to go for this session because he has more work to do gathering information from those who have been in charge of carrying out the new code.

“I think we probably could do some things to help with enforcement, there are some difficulties,” Urquhart said. “And I don’t know who (Anderegg) had talked to when he was putting his bill together, but I am working together with law enforcement and working with a lot of different folks to iron out those nuts and bolts issues with the law, (but it is) not an attempt to go backwards.”

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

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Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

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5 Comments

  • Simone January 30, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Republican logic: Texting and driving is bad but looking up a contact in your phone while you’re driving is not only okay, its essential.

  • Free Parking January 30, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Dang that’s the kind of thinking Tweekers do

  • My Evil Twin January 30, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Politician logic: Say and do anything you can to get your name out there for the public to see. The more free publicity you garner, good or bad, the more your name is going to stick in the minds of people when (if) they vote.

  • Leslee January 30, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    This new bill SB63 is a bunch of nonsense and a waste of our legislatures time.

    SB253 was clearly a step in the right direction and has the backing not only from our law makers but our law enforcement officers throughout the state.

    Oh and the person who was killed Rep. Andereggs has a name. His name is David Henson and he was my husband.

    There will be more just like him that lose their lives if we don’t continue to make laws like SB253 and end the epidemic of distracted driving.

    Bravo to Steve Urquhart on his work to get SB63 banned!

    • Simone January 30, 2015 at 11:19 pm

      Mrs. Henson,

      I hope that I am not the first on this thread to say that I think what happened to you and your husband was completely deplorable. Though I know neither you or your late husband, I am certain based on the public actions taken by you and your family after such a tragedy that he was a good man who loved his family and is missed by many. It is unfortunate that we live in a society where it seems change can only be brought about by a significant tragedy such as yours. I am thankful that you and your family have sacrificed your time, effort, money and much more into this. You are a very strong woman, I know because I am not sure I would have had the strength to do what you are doing. Though I do not know you or your family, I hope that you will accept not only my sincerest condolences for your loss but my deepest gratitude for what you have sacrificed in the wake of it. Thank you.

      Now for my political opinion, If you ask me, SB253 did not go far enough. I believe that we should ban the use of a cell phone completely while driving. It sickens me to think that there are actually people right here in St. George who believe that they can safely make a phone call on a cell phone while operating a 5,000 lb piece of metal moving at 40 mph. To the people who disagree with me, who think that it is perfectly fine that they are somehow perfect, that it won’t happen to them because they’ve done it any number of times before and gotten away with it, I ask this. what if it was your husband, your wife, your parent, your child, your brother or sister, etc who was hit by someone who thought that their 5 minute phone call or 3 letter text message was more important then paying attention to the road in front of them as they careened down it at 40+ mph in a 3,000+ lb piece of metal?

      I believe that the only reason we have not already banned them entirely is because we are stocked to the brim with elected officials on all sides who care more about how much money they have in their own pocket book then they do about the people who got them there in the first place. The problem is not that our elected officials, and people who “subsidize” their pocketbook, believe that we are too stupid to know what we are doing, the problem is that we keep proving them right.

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