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Utah Senate OKs ban on cellphones for young drivers

Published February 7, 2012 2:50 pm

SB128 • But some lawmakers wonder if measure could be enforced.
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The Utah Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would ban 16- and 17-year-olds from talking on a cellphone while driving — despite objections from legislators who say the measure would be unenforceable.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has said distracted drivers, especially young ones, pose a threat to themselves and others on the road.

But Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the ban would put police officers in an impossible situation.

"Are we going to ask our police officers to, in an instant, decide as a primary offense if the person who is talking on the phone is under age 18 without any other probable cause for … the traffic stop?"

Romero said they would be asked to do just that. Violations of the law would result in a $50 fine.

SB128 was amended to allow drivers to play music and use GPS features on a smartphone. There are also exceptions allowing calls to report an emergency or road hazard.

But there would be no exception for using a hands-free device, which Romero said doesn't make a measurable difference in safety. The bill passed the Senate 19-9 and moves to the House.

Last year, Romero's similar bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said he was conflicted about the bill.

"Government has its limitations," he said. "We're not going to stop a whole lot with this, but I know in other states all of us are restricted from driving with that telephone stuck in our ear, and if this prevents even one or two teenagers from being killed on our highways, I'm sorry, but I have to support the bill."

gehrke@sltrib.com