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Proposed ban on cellphone use while driving clears Utah House

The Utah Division of Emergency Management turned off push notifications for the state's new travel declaration order after some state residents got repeated alerts. (PHOTO: Stock image)

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to ban the use of handheld cellphones while driving was endorsed by the Utah House and is now off to the Senate.

Proposed bill passes House committee

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Holladay) introduced a bill that has made the rounds in the Utah legislature for several years in a row. However, it’s always failed to pass the full legislature.

But on Feb. 7, 2020, H.B. 101, passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on a 6-2 vote. Rep. Spackman Moss has pushed for the bill repeatedly but faced resistance from lawmakers who felt it infringed on personal liberties.

In an attempt to win over more critics for the bill, Rep. Spackman Moss dropped the level of punishment from a misdemeanor to an infraction unless someone is injured in a crash due to the use of cellphones. During Friday’s hearing, she introduced law enforcement officers and insurance companies to show formal support for her efforts.

The hand-held use of cell phones while driving has technically been illegal in Utah for a few years. This bill would prohibit texting and talking on a cell phone while driving unless it is “hands-free”.

Bill will advance to the Senate

As of Monday, the Utah House advanced a bill to help enforce laws banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. The Salt Lake Tribune reported the House has endorsed House Bill 101 and forwarded it to the Senate.

House Bill 101 will alter the law by adding stricter use of cell-phones while driving in Utah. Currently, the law states you can hold your cellphone. However, to receive a ticket for using your cell phone you must commit a traffic violation at the same time.

Some lawmakers pushed against Rep. Spackman Moss, citing studies from other states with similar laws showing no difference in behavior whatsoever. Other lawmakers came to the bill’s defense stating it would give grit and teeth to anti-texting and driving campaigns. After the long debate over if the bill will prevent distracted driving, the House voted 40-32 to pass H.B. 101.

Hand-held cellphone use, specifically while driving, has been illegal in Utah since 2007. Additionally, it can only be enforced simultaneously with another moving violation, such as speeding. Changes to the new bill included reducing penalties.

A similar bill was proposed in 2019 to ban the use of cellphones while driving but failed to move forward from the House.