Loss of loved ones, concerns over ‘nanny state’ at center of distracted driving debate in Utah

Posted at 10:15 PM, Feb 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-07 00:15:44-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A law that helps police nab drivers texting behind the wheel could now be scaled back under a new proposal.

Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-District 6, believes the distracted driving restrictions passed last year went too far. He's proposing a bill to loosen them, and it narrowly passed a House Transportation Committee meeting Friday on a 6-5 vote.

"I'm arguing, according to the stats, we have had more fatalities since this law was put into place, not fewer," Anderegg said. "I'm not convinced that there's a direct correlation between this specific piece of legislation and keeping us safe."

Under current law, “manipulation” of a handheld device, such as a cellphone, is illegal. However, Anderegg wants to make an amendment that would allow drivers to dial and receive phone calls, as well as use a GPS.

"We are kind of trying to be the nanny state," Anderegg said. "Stepping in and saying, 'You can do this, you can't do that, and this is going to help and this is not going to help.' I'm not convinced that that's actually helping."

But it has helped bring peace of mind to at least one driver.

"My daughter, Margay Schee, was killed on September 23, 2008," said Elissa Schee, who weighed in on the bill at the meeting.

Her daughter was 13 years old when she was killed in a school bus crash in Florida, which Schee said was caused by a distracted driver.

"She was in the aisle of the bus and was unable to get out and the bus, and the truck caught on fire and she was killed in that fire," Schee said. "For that representative to say that people's livelihoods depend on their cell phones, that's really, really hard for me to hear because my daughter will never have a livelihood. Her rights burned up with her on that bus."

Of the few who commented on the proposal, only one was in favor Friday.

"If anybody is talking on the phone and really doesn't see a bus or car in front of them, that is a problem that I don't think any law can really stop," said local resident, George Chapman.

Ultimately, lawmakers decided the bill should be debated before the entire legislative body. It now moves on to the full House floor.