Drivers on their morning commute may notice a new road behavior beginning Tuesday, as motorcyclists can now legally engage in lane filtering, or moving between stopped cars on some major Utah roads.
That change is one of hundreds to state code that take effect this week, ranging from traffic rules to the designation of an official state reptile.
“We’re hoping drivers understand that it’s coming from an interest in safety,” said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street. "When motorcyclists are rear-ended, it typically always results in injury.”
Under the new law, lane filtering is allowed on roads with a posted speed at or below 45 mph, and where there are at least two lanes of travel in a single direction. Motorcycles can only filter past stopped vehicles, and at a top speed of 15 mph, Street said.
After filtering, Street said, a motorcycle can either accelerate through an intersection on a green light or merge into a lane as traffic flow resumes.
“The other caveat to this is that motorcycle is no longer fulfilling a vehicle position when they filter,” Street said. “So the overall traffic flow can go better.”
Motorcycle deaths increased by 24% — from 38 to 47 — in 2018, the largest single-year increase in state history, according to data from the Utah Department of Transportation.
Stopped cars are part of another change to state law, as drivers can now be cited for violating a city’s anti-idling ordinance after a single warning, down from three warnings under previous statute.
Salt Lake City spokesman Matthew Rojas described the change as a step in the right direction. He said the anti-idling ordinance of Utah’s capital city would be updated in the coming weeks to better align with the new law.
Rojas said the city is not expecting to dramatically increase the number of citations given to idling drivers — adding “I think you’ll see more than zero" — but that the ability to issue a true warning adds weight to anti-idling campaigns.
“Our ordinance is primarily focused on education and letting individuals know what happens when you’re idling and how that really has a negative impact on our air pollution and air quality,” Rojas said. “Dropping from three warnings to one warning definitely makes it a lot easier for us to actually enforce the ordinance.”
Rojas said he hopes the change will prompt other cities to adopt anti-idling ordinances, and send a message to Utah motorists.
“The ultimate goal is that people won’t idle their cars,” Rojas said. “They’ll turn their cars off.”
Tuesday is the default effective date for bills that passed during the 2019 legislative session, which concluded on March 14. In some cases, bills went into effect earlier this year and others won’t kick in for months.
Among the new Utah laws that take effect this week are:
• HB43, which makes it a misdemeanor crime to lie about needing an emotional support animal and prohibits landlords from discriminating against individuals who own support animals;
• a measure to strengthen Utah’s ineffective hate crimes law, which has never resulted in a successful conviction. Before the changes, hate crimes enhancements could only apply to misdemeanor crimes; the beefed-up version will allow for tougher penalties in felony cases and includes a list of protected classes;
• legislation to regulate e-scooters, allowing people to ride them down busier roadways and barring people from drinking alcohol while operating them;
• a prohibition against the use of fake urine, another person’s urine or stored urine to beat an alcohol or drug-screening test;
• a minimum legal marriage age of 16 — up from 15 — with the additional requirement of parental consent and judicial approval for older minors to marry;
• the naming of the Gila monster as the Utah state reptile. This bill, promoted by schoolchildren in Washington County, was the final piece of legislation approved in the 2019 session.
But some high-profile and controversial bills will take months before they take legal and practical effect in the state. Utahns won’t be seeing stronger beer on grocery and convenience store shelves just yet, since the Legislature’s move to increase the state’s alcohol content limit doesn’t kick in until Nov. 1.
Once that date hits, shoppers should begin noticing a change quickly, says Kate Bradshaw, who helped push for the bill raising the beer cap from 3.2% to 4% alcohol by weight.
Brewers, retailers and distributers will be spending the intervening months planning for the transition and deciding what types of beers they will make and carry, said Bradshaw, director of the Responsible Beer Choice Coalition.
“It’s kind of the same thing whenever a new product comes on the market: gauging your consumer base versus your shelf space versus your price point,” she said.
The upcoming change to Utah’s beer cap will leave Minnesota as the only state with a 3.2 limit for beer sold in grocery and convenience stores. And Bradshaw said major brewers will be contemplating how much longer to make weak beer, given the ever-shrinking national market for it.
Will that translate into sparser store shelves over the next few months?
Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, says he doesn't foresee any beer shortages.
"The nice thing is we're not the first to make this transition. We have Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas that will all make the transition before we do," he said. "These large national brewers have some experience with how to do that, so we don't anticipate any major bumps."
The section of the bill that does take effect Tuesday calls for a summer work group to study the availability of beer and deliver recommendations by the end of October.
Another major change for retailers — the increase to the tobacco purchasing age — will also take some time to become effective.
The “tobacco 21” bill, approved by the Legislature, raises the statewide buying age from 19 to 20 on July 1, 2020. The second and final age increase, limiting tobacco purchases to buyers who are 21 or older, will happen on July 1, 2021.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, a Sandy Republican, has said the phase-in period is designed to minimize the number of people who have the ability to buy cigarettes one day and lose it the next.