Lawmakers advance bill to ban texting behind the wheel

Published February 11, 2009 11:45 am
Unanimous vote » The proposal treats violations just like a DUI.
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Text messaging while driving can be annoying -- even dangerous. It could become illegal.

A Senate committee on Friday unanimously passed a bill that prohibits texting or e-mailing on a cell phone while driving. It now moves to the full Senate.

"If you want to text, pull over to the side of the road and text to your delight," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, the bill's sponsor.

Violation of the proposed law would be subject to the same penalties as driving under the influence, a class B misdemeanor for the first two offenses, and a class A misdemeanor for the third. A class B is punishable by up to six months in jail, an A by up to 1 year.

Also, if a driver's texting caused an automobile death, the crime would be treated as a third-degree felony.

Texting while driving can be more dangerous than drinking and driving, Hillyard said. A study published last year by the Transport Research Laboratory in London showed that people who text while driving decrease their reaction times by 35 percent. However, the bill's language does not prohibit browsing through a cell's phonebook, or operating any other electronic device while driving.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, who voted in favor of the bill, said he hopes that no other prohibitions are added to the bill, including "playing a Game Boy." Hinkins' comments drew a few looks from other committee members.

Hillyard's bill is the narrower version of another bill targeting cell phone use while driving. Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Holladay, wants to ban any use of a wireless device while driving, with exceptions for emergencies and two-way radios.

A ban on texting isn't enough for Riesen. Simply talking on a cell phone can be as dangerous as driving drunk, he said. Researchers at the University of Utah published a study last year that backs up that claim.

Riesen's bill has not yet had a public hearing. Hinkins said that a complete ban of cell phone use would be going too far in a busy world where people need to communicate constantly.

"Where do you draw the line? Pretty soon it will be illegal to have a passenger in your car," Hinkins said.

But most Utahns support such a ban. A Tribune poll taken in January showed 80 percent of voters backed such a measure.

Hillyard's legislation is similar to a text messaging ban that's already taken effect in seven other states, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said his vote in favor the bill was an easy one.

"I don't text while driving anyway," Urquhart said. "It gets in the way of my banjo playing."

Penalty increases with violations

SB149 » Text messaging while driving would be a class B misdemeanor on the first two offenses; a class A misdemeanor on the third.

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