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.
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 …”
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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