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Peg McEntee: Save lives – restrict cellphones for young drivers

Published March 13, 2013 6:41 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

As legislation goes, it doesn't seem like a big deal: a common-sense prohibition on fledgling Utah drivers using cellphones while driving.

But given that we all see drivers on streets and freeways with a phone welded to their ear — and given the dangers of doing so — the bill could foster a generation of drivers who understand that a moment of inattention can have terrible consequences.

But try telling that to the adults who drive while on the phone or texting. The ones you see in parking lots and intersections, not noticing that the car — often driven by me — is frantically trying to get out of their way.

It's just common sense that distracted driving, particularly with phones, is as dangerous as driving drunk. Whether a driver is impaired or inattentive, bad things happen.

Texting is worse, research shows, because your visual, manual and cognitive abilities are compromised. Whether you're going 35 mph or 65 mph, that's bad news heading straight for the rest of us. It's good that state law already forbids such nonsense, as well as using an app or looking at an image.

I've answered my cellphone while driving a few times, but I gave it up years ago when I realized that when I did, I basically went blind. When I do get a call, I pull over and call back.

During the debate in the Utah Senate, we heard the same tired protests: Lawmakers are trying to micromanage our "every little behavior," as Sen. Dierdre Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican, put it Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher, of West Valley City, noted that other things can be distracting, too, like listening to the radio or eating at the wheel.

No on the radio — it's not nearly as distracting — and yes on the food. I have seen at least two freeway drivers holding a bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other. Were they driving by mental telepathy or with their knees? I'll never know.

What Utah really needs to do is to follow other states' leads and ban talking on hand-held devices. In California, it's OK for drivers to make and answer hands-free calls; other states have various regulations.

If a teenager up to age 18 gets a ticket, the penalty is only a $25 fine and no points on his or her record. That driver may run into some parental wrath, however, and that's good. There's nothing like losing car privileges when you're in high school. I know.

Kudos to sponsoring Rep. Lee Perry, a Highway Patrol officer, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard for pushing the bill through the Legislature and on to Gov. Gary Herbert.

In the United States, thousands of teen drivers die in car crashes every year. Governor, it's now up to you.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.