Competing Measures Take Aim at Cell Phones Behind the Wheel

A battle is now set up between two GOP legislators over cell phone use in cars and trucks.

The men are on the same side – kind of – in that they both want safer drivers, and clear rules for both drivers and police officers when it comes to enforcing cell phone use in vehicles.

But there are several really big differences in their competing bills.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, wants to stop people from driving with their cell phones held up to their ear. He wants drivers using some kind of hands free devices while driving, or not talking on cell phones at all.

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, wants to make it clear that drivers can make or receive a phone call while the car is in motion, that they can drive with cell phones up to their ears and they can dial telephone numbers and/or answer their cell phone while driving.

Urquhart, in SB162 introduced Friday, would ban the use of a cell phone unless the phone is operated hands free – and the vehicle is equipped to handle a hands free call.

Current Utah law says a driver can’t text or do other things on his hand-held device while the car is moving,  but can make or take a telephone call.

Anderegg wants to clarify that current law a bit. In his HB63 he wants to make it clear that a driver can type in a call while his vehicle is moving, or tap his phone to answer a call.

So HB63 clearly lets a driver make or answer a call while driving.

Anderegg says the current law – which says a person can’t be typing a text and driving – is basically impossible to enforce.

Urquhart agrees with that, police are having a hard time enforcing the current law – which bans texting but not phone calls.

A police officer sees a driver typing his phone while driving, pulls him over, and the person says he is making a call, not texting.

“I just bought a new car,” said Anderegg.  “And I can make or receive a call” by voice, Anderegg told UtahPolicy. “In 10 years, probably all cars (and cell phones) will have voice activation. But many on the roads now, don’t.”

How Utah driver-and-cell phone law transitions to those totally hands free calling will be interesting, he adds.

Urquhart says that time is now.

Urquhart told UtahPolicy that it is just too confusing to enforce, and too dangerous, to drive while dialing and receiving a call.

“I say you can’t manipulate a cell phone” while driving, “Period,” said Urquhart.

If by voice you can call or answer a phone, fine. But you can’t have a phone in your hand up to your ear.

“It would all be hands free,” said Urquhart.

   Besides saying a person can’t use a handheld cell phone will talking and driving, Urquhart’s bill also removes the $100 maximum fine for the offense.

Misusing a cell phone while driving remains a Class C misdemeanor, meaning the fine can go up to $750 under Urquhart’s changes.

“It was becoming a real hassle for the courts” to try to impose two different fine levels for a Class C misdemeanor – the $100 fine for violating texting and driving, and the $750 fine for all other Class Cs under state code.

So, legislators will have a clear choice between the two measures: Outlaw talking on a cell phone while driving and holding it to your ear, or talking on only a hands free cell call.