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Distracted driving ban clears Utah legislative committee

Bill allows 'one touch' on a device while driving
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Posted at 5:39 PM, Feb 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-07 19:39:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to ban distracted driving in Utah has cleared a House committee.

House Bill 101, sponsored by House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, passed out of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on a 6-2 vote.

The bill would prohibit texting, talking or any other form of distracted driving unless it is "hands free." You get one "touch or tap," she said.

Utah has technically banned cell phone use while driving for years, but only as a secondary offense -- making it tough for police to crack down on the practice.

Rep. Spackman Moss has run the bill repeatedly, but faced resistance from lawmakers who feel it infringes on personal liberties or who believe automated vehicles will resolve the problem. This year, in an effort to win over more critics, she dropped the level of punishment to an infraction (it will remain a misdemeanor crime to drive distracted if someone is injured in a crash). During Friday's committee hearing, she brought a parade of law enforcement officers -- including Utah's Department of Public Safety -- who spoke in support of her legislation.

One paramedic described seeing someone driving with their iPad propped up on the steering wheel.

Janet Hemming, who was injured in a crash that she said was caused by distracted driving, testified in support of the bill.

"After 11 months of physical therapy, my life has improved," she told lawmakers. "But there are still things I did easily and effortlessly before the accident that I still can’t do today. The at-fault driver told police that her phone rang and it distracted her."

The bill faced some opposition from a two-way radio group who sought an exemption. But members of the committee spoke in favor of the bill.

Rep. Val Potter, R-Logan, said it was time the legislature "stood up" and supported her bill. He admitted to being swayed and being guilty of distracted driving himself.

"We need to change habits. Now is the time to start," he said.

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote.