Bill Would Increase Penalties for Texting While Driving

Millions of Utah drivers could be affected by a bill written because of a tragic auto accident in Southern Utah.


A St. George couple’s car was struck by distracted driver, killing the husband and seriously harming the wife, but the cops had a hard time prosecuting.

Now veteran Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is trying to find a way to punish the driver, and warn the millions of Utahns who talk on their cell phones while driving that they need to be more careful.

SB253 could have major impacts on Utah drivers.

Or not, if it doesn’t pass or has major amendments.

“I’m trying to get at people who are texting – which is already against the law – but when arrested after a crash just say they were making a call or answering” their cell phone, Urquhart told UtahPolicy.

The technology of phones is changing almost daily, and it’s tough to keep laws up to date.

Instead of “texting,” his bill says if you are in the process of “manipulating the keys,” and have an accident, or are pulled over by a police officer for distracted driving, then SB253 is aimed at you.

Probably hundreds of thousands of Utahns talk on their cell phones every day while driving.

You know who you are – a driver behind you likely sees you weaving, slowing down at odd times, not stopping at red lights, or stopping at green lights, or drifting out of your lane.

It’s kind of like driving behind your grandpa – who shouldn’t be on the roads anymore.

“It doesn’t matter if you are texting or dialing a phone, your eyes are off the road,” said Urquhart.

His bill increases the offenses for “distracted driving” while using an electronic device.

First offense, with an accident, a Class C misdemeanor, $750 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

Bodily harm in an accident, Class B misdemeanor, six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

If a person dies in a crash you caused, vehicular homicide, many years in the state pen (depending on plea bargains or the sentencing judge).

The current law gives exemptions if your car has blue-tooth connections to your cell phone, or other ways to have “hands free” cell phoning – you are not holding the cell phone to your ear.

But that’s old stuff now, says Urquhart, who has been one of the most highly-connected legislator for years.

Now, on iPhone, for example, you can push a button and talk to Siri – asking her to dial the person you want to talk to, put you on speaker phone, and hang up when you are finished.

So you don’t need the blue-tooth, hands-free connectability anymore with your car – your cell phone can do it for you.

Other states, and many cities, have outlawed talking on your cell phone while driving – period.

With exceptions for emergency calls, or calls to spouses or kids, you can’t talk on your cell phone while driving.

But Urquhart said he’s not there on SB253.

“I want to tighten up the problems with typing on your cell phone while driving – doesn’t matter if it is texting or not.”