The Utah Senate hung up Thursday on a call to ban motorists younger than 18 from using cell phones while driving.
It voted 11-13 to reject HB103. The measure previously passed the House 48-22.
Bill sponsor, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Highway Patrol officer, earlier said the ban would be akin to other restrictions placed on young drivers going through graduated license procedures — including, for a time, not allowing passengers in their car besides parents, and not permitting driving between midnight and 5 a.m.
"This is part of an educational process," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, the Senate sponsor of the bill, noting it would bring only a $25 fine and no points on a driving record. He said it would help deliver a message that "When you drive a car, that should be your main focus" and not talking on a phone.
But Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said, "The problem isn’t teenagers, it’s every driver." He also said merely talking on a cell phone is not a problem until it results in a moving violation, and laws already allow giving tickets for those.
"It’s really hard to tell the difference between a 17-year-old and 18-year-old at 65 miles an hour," so enforcement could be difficult, Thatcher added. "I don’t think this bill is necessary or good policy."
Hillyard said it might lead to some well deserved lectures to young-looking adults talking on phones who might be pulled over.
The bill had been endorsed by law enforcement and auto-insurance companies that noted teen drivers have much higher rates of accidents, and that cell-phone studies at the University of Utah have shown that drivers who talk on handheld or hands-free cell phones are just as impaired as drunk drivers.
In earlier House committee action, several members worried the ban infringed too much on personal liberty — and could create a "slippery slope" toward banning cell phone use for all drivers. Neither objection was voiced during debate by the Senate.
Hillyard changed his vote to "no" on his own bill — a procedural move which could allow him to ask for reconsideration of the bill if he later has enough votes to pass it.
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