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Measuring danger

Published March 15, 2013 1:01 am

Senate votes only partly backward
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Apparently, the irony of voting to allow teenagers to endanger themselves and others by talking on cellphones while driving, on the same day that they voted to continue to shield innocent eyes from the sight of liquor being poured, was too much for even the usually shameless members of the Utah Legislature to endure.

There is scientific proof that talking or texting while driving, even with a hands-free device, impairs a driver's ability just as much as being drunk, proof developed right here at the University of Utah. Such behavior is measurably more dangerous than other potentially distracting things that drivers do, such as fiddling with the radio, eating a drive-through cheeseburger or arguing politics with passengers.

Yet it took two tries before the Senate gathered its wits and approved HB103. The bill that would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from talking or texting while driving was voted down Tuesday, 11-13. But bill manager Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, found enough stray supporters to return to the floor Wednesday and pass the bill, 17-12. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert, who should sign it into law.

Of course, sane policy would ban talking and driving by all drivers, regardless of age. But the Legislature is only willing to enjoin this horribly risky behavior among those who are too young to vote.

Also Tuesday, senators killed a House-passed bill that would have removed the only-in-Utah requirement that certain restaurants keep those who pour and mix drinks from the sight of restaurant patrons. Barkeeps and their tools are hidden behind a screen that has come to be known, mockingly, as the Zion Curtain.

The scientific evidence that such a visual denial of the truth will prevent young people from taking up a life of inebriation was developed, well, nowhere. But who needs science when you've got a gut feeling? Led by the otherwise rational Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, long the Senate's go-to guy on all things alcoholic, senators unanimously stood by that feeling. They rejected the idea Tuesday and again on Thursday.

The expressed fear that, without the barriers, Utah's restaurants would look like bars suggests that our lawmakers have not been in many bars. Or many restaurants.

It is, admittedly, a minor point. But a point that makes Utah look unnecessarily weird in the eyes of both visitors and would-be entrepreneurs. Who, as long as they are adults, will be able to send derisive text messages to their friends. While they are driving out of Utah.