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House Committe Advances Bill To Curb Distracted Driving

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Texting while driving is already illegal in Utah. House Bill 101 would make it illegal to even hold a phone while behind the wheel. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss has sponsored the bill many times—last year, it failed to receive enough support in the full House. The Democrat from Holladay says a majority of Utahns support a ban on handheld cell phones, regardless of their political affiliation. Moss says the bill is about public safety.

“You're not only endangering those who are in your car, passengers, but you're likely to kill or severely injure someone?else," Moss said.?"So, this isn't a matter of just personal freedom. The way you drive and the way you conduct yourself on the road certainly affects other people.”?

The bill would allow for the use of a hands-free device; drivers could mount their phone on the dashboard, or they could use an earpiece, Bluetooth or speaker phone. The bill would also enact a one tap or swipe rule, where drivers could touch their phones to turn them on or answer the phone, but the intent is to prevent people from prolonged, manual use.

Utah Highway Patrol Colonel Mike Rapich says UHP supports the bill. Of 62,000 documented crashes in 2018, Rapich says nearly 6,000 involved distracted driving. He says that number is likely higher, but it’s difficult to identify crashes as a result of distracted driving.

“So,?it’s an extremely big part of the problem we're dealing with," Rapich said. "Eighteen deaths in 2018 that are directly attributed to distraction of 260 that happened throughout state.”?

Salt Lake City resident George Chapman spoke against the bill, saying it’s unrealistic to expect people not to answer their phones. Chapman argues it’s unenforceable.

“This is like a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit," Chapman said. "If we're going to pass a law that's going to be disrespected, it will increase disrespect for laws in general.”

The House Law Enforcement Committee approved the bill on a six-to-two vote. It now moves onto the full House for consideration.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.