Motorists violating Utah’s tough new ban on dialing or texting on their cellphones while driving mostly got off with warnings Tuesday, the first day the law took effect.
Don’t expect that leniency down the road, however.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers plan to enforce the law more stringently in the future, handing out tickets carrying stiff fines and the threat of potential jail time.
UHP Sgt. Todd Royce said troopers rode in the cabs of various trucking company big rigs Tuesday, spotting offenders and radioing the information to cruisers for subsequent traffic stops.
In all, 148 warning tickets were issued statewide. Six other motorists, allegedly seen driving dangerously or erratically while handling their phones, were issued citations for the class C misdemeanor. The latter face fines of up to $100.
The new law makes the offense a class B misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $1,000 and possible jail time, if the offender causes an injury accident.
“It was a successful effort. The focus was educational. We accomplished our goal of getting out there and making the public aware of this new law,” Royce said Wednesday. “Now, they should know that what was legal the day before is no longer legal now.”
Royce referred to loopholes in previous statutes governing cellphone use while driving. Specifically, motorists pulled over for alleged texting — illegal under the old law — would claim they were simply dialing someone, which had not previously been banned.
Troopers complained such shortcomings made it nearly impossible to enforce the older texting-while-driving ban.
Those days are over. The new law outlaws manipulating by hand a cellphone or any other portable electronic device while driving. That includes texting, dialing a phone or even changing music on a smartphone.
The law does allow, however, actually talking on a handheld cellphone, and exempts manipulating electronics built into the dashboard, such as OnStar or stereo decks that connect to cellphones via wireless Bluetooth frequencies, and use of portable devices for GPS directions.
UHP reported that 63 cellphone-use-related traffic stops were made Tuesday in Salt Lake County alone, while 45 stops were recorded in Utah County and 15 in Davis County. Washington County reported seven stops.