When driving your car, which activity would you guess would result in receiving a ticket: running a red light or holding your cell phone while talking and driving? In many states, both activities are considered offenses and are enforceable by law. But not in Utah. Last week the Utah House of Representatives voted on both issues and the results may surprise you.
The House voted to kill a bill (HB13) that bans handheld cell phone use while driving. Some representatives cited impingement on freedoms, concern over the offense's classification as a class C misdemeanor with steep penalties and fines, and an assumption that people are smart enough to know better than to talk while driving.
A class C misdemeanor carries with it up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. This is not a unique classification for driving infractions. The same classification is applied to reckless driving and driving without a current license. At present, drivers under the age of 18 can be ticketed for cell phone use but adult drivers can only be ticketed if they are pulled over for a separate non-speeding violation and also happen to be spotted using their phones.
In an article written by Lee Davidson for the Salt Lake Tribune, he quotes Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem who strongly opposed the bill as saying "he would prefer to use education to handle cellphone use while driving." He went on to state that Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said, "Maybe we shouldn't have a bill on 'drinking and driving' and let education handle that, too."
Meanwhile, a bill to allow drivers to run a red light (HB151) was passed. This bill allows drivers to pass through a red light, "if they first stop for 90 seconds, determine the light is not cycling properly, and proceed when the coast is clear. The measure is strongly opposed by law enforcement, prosecutors, cities and the Utah Department of Transportation."
Members of law enforcement and UDOT expressed concern over this bill stating that this problem does not exist to such a severe degree as to warrant a bill. Most traffic lights are tied to a central system and if a malfunction occurs it is corrected quickly.
What does this mean for you? At this point, you're going to have to be on high alert for people distracted from talking on cell phones AND impatient drivers unwilling to stop at a longer than usual red light.