Pregnant women can’t cruise alone in the fast lane, Utah lawmakers decide

An effort to let pregnant women drive in the HOV lane — and counting a fetus as a person — ultimately failed over concerns that the bill would result in a loss of federal funding for Utah’s transportation agency.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Stephanie Gricius in a meeting of the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

A bill that would have allowed pregnant women to drive in the HOV lane, further codifying in Utah law personhood status for unborn fetuses, failed in a Senate committee meeting Monday.

Rep. Stephanie Gricius’ bill was voted down 3-2 by the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee. The proposal was previously recommended by a House committee and passed out of the House, although both Republican and Democratic lawmakers voted against it.

The freshman Republican lawmaker told the committee that the bill is “both life-affirming and pro-woman,” noting that if a near ban on abortion currently held up in courts goes into effect, there will be an increase in the number of pregnant women in the state.

“As a mom who has thrown up on the side of the freeway many, many times in my own personal history, I know that maybe having an extra five minutes to get to where you are going can make a very, very big difference,” Gricius said.

Gricius also argued that it would reduce emissions and congestion on freeways, because it would allow more people to drive in underutilized carpool lanes.

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Both Democrats on the committee voted against the bill. The lone Republican to join them, Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, said he opposed it because he was worried that it might take federal funding from the Utah Department of Transportation.

The director of legislative affairs for UDOT, Leif Elder, said the department reached out to the Federal Highway Administration and confirmed that the bill wouldn’t break any federal laws, but said, “There is some guidance from the Federal Highway Administration that does say that a fetus cannot be counted as an occupant.”

There is a “very small possibility” that under the guidance, Elder added, some federal funds could be withheld.

“(There’s) probably nobody more pro-life in the world than I am,” Ipson said, explaining his vote, “I just ... think we’re asking the Highway Patrol to do the impossible to try to enforce this. And I’m concerned that our federal funding on our highways is at risk.”