Proposed bill would make it illegal to merely hold a phone while driving

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Despite opposition and three previous attempts at passing similar bills in past seasons, one lawmaker is keeping her hands on the wheel and is again attempting to steer a distracted driving amendment bill home during the 2019 state legislative session.

Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Holladay, is sponsoring 2019’s HB 13, Distracted Driver Amendments, which would require that cell phones remain on the dashboard, windshield or in a vehicle’s console and states that “an individual may not hold or use a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle.”

According to laws already on the books, it is illegal to use a handheld device while operating a vehicle on Utah roadways but the new legislation would make it a crime even to hold a device in your hands and cannot be used except for “hands-free operation.”

At least 9 percent of all crashes in Utah involve a distracted driver and, probably not surprising to anyone living in Southern Utah, Washington County drivers are among the worst in the state.

In 2016 alone, there were 5,748 distracted driver caused accidents in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety, resulting in 3,303 injured people.

The National Safety Council said there is strong evidence that many crashes involving cell phone use are under reported.

Most use would be banned by Spackman-Moss’ proposal but there are a few exceptions for emergency responders who are permitted to use devices “within the course and scope of the law enforcement officer’s or emergency service personnel’s employment.” The public may also use them for reporting crimes or during an emergency.

The amendments have support from the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee but are facing pushback from some organizations including the Libertas Institute, which reported on its website that the legislation violates its principles and should be opposed.

Under HB 13, violators would be guilty of a class C misdemeanor, which could be enhanced to class B for repeat offenders or if someone suffers serious injury as a result of using a device.

“Criminally punishing the mere holding of a phone is unnecessarily excessive and a significant over-criminalization of an activity that only accounts for the cause of just over 1 percent of highway fatalities,” a Libertas Institute article stated.

The bill is now under consideration by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

Read more: See all St. George News reports and opinions on Utah Legislature 2019 issues


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