Two bills aim to ban the use of handheld cell phones for Utah drivers

State lawmakers can now choose between two bills that would restrict the use of handheld telephone devices while driving a vehicle.

Wednesday, Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, introduced HB220, which would make it a Class C misdemeanor with a $100 fine if a person is caught talking on a handheld cell phone while driving through an active school zone.

Earlier this session, Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Holladay, introduced HB64, which would make it a primary offense to drive a vehicle anywhere in the state while talking on a handheld cell phone.

Moss’s bill has the same penalty as Pitcher’s, a Class C misdemeanor with a $100 fine for the first offense.

Both bills move the penalty up to a Class B misdemeanor, with jail time, if it is the second offense for the driver or if an individual suffers serious bodily injury being hit by the distracted driver.

Pitcher told UtahPolicy that he just wants to protect school children, K-12, in his bill, and didn’t want to extend that to all driving conditions.

Moss said accidents with drivers talking on their phones had increased the last six years in the state, with 6,000 accidents, more than 3,000 injuries, and 27 deaths attributed to Utah drivers in 2016 who crashed while talking on handheld devices.

Both bills allow talking while driving if drivers us hands-free devices – most often Bluetooth connected phones that dial and operate through driver voice commands and have drivers talking without holding their phones.

Many states already ban handheld driver phone conversations.

And two years ago Utah lawmakers passed a bill outlawing texting while driving.

Said Moss: “Utah has some of the toughest DUI laws in the nation, but we have some of the weakest distracted driver laws.”

That should be fixed this year, she said.

She added that she believes she has the votes in the Senate, and that her challenge is getting 38-plus votes in the more conservative House.

“There are those who just don’t want government doing nearly anything,” said Moss.

But state government can do this, and save lives and suffering, as well, she said.