Distracted Driving Laws in Utah

Posted on February 24, 2023

Only a few decades ago, distracted driving meant fiddling with a radio dial or eating a hamburger while driving. While those distractions also pose danger, instances of accidents from distracted driving have skyrocketed in the era of smartphones. Distracted driving caused 3,142 fatalities in traffic accidents in 2020.

When something other than driving takes any of your attention away from the road, you’re engaging in distracted driving. When driving does not have your full attention, the chances of an accident increase dramatically. When driving at 55 mph, even sending a simple text reply takes an average of 5 seconds — the equivalent of driving the length of a football field.

Utah’s Laws on Cell Phone Use While Driving

Utah’s laws are meant to minimize distracted driving accidents by being tough on drivers who use their cell phones in the following ways while driving:

  • Reading a text message
  • Typing a text message
  • Typing in phone numbers to make a call 
  • Accessing the internet
  • Sending emails
  • Watching videos
  • Recording videos
  • Using messaging services like Facebook messenger or Twitter DM
  • Entering any data into a cell phone, tablet, or any other electronic device

While it’s safest to avoid calls completely while driving, the law prohibits only the manual use of a smartphone, you can still legally use your phone’s hands-free, voice-activated apps while driving.

Penalties for Distracted Driving in Utah

Utah has particularly tough fines and penalties for distracted driving. If an officer spots a driver using their phone manually while driving, the driver could face the following legal ramifications:

  • Fines of up to $750
  • A misdemeanor crime on their record
  • Up to 3 months of jail time.

If a distracted driver causes an accident with an injury or fatality the penalties increase to:

  • A $10,000 fine
  • A felony conviction
  • Up to 15 years in prison

Commercial vehicle drivers face stiffer penalties including:

  • Fines of up to $2,700 for drivers
  • Fines of up to $11,000 for employers with policies that necessitate their drivers to use hand-held devices while driving
  • Loss of their commercial driver’s license

Studies show that distracted driving causes accidents through a combination of factors. At least one of the driver’s hands is off the steering wheel while texting and driving, their eyes are off the road so they may miss a vehicle or pedestrian stopping in front of them, and they are focused on something other than their driving and the roadway ahead.

Are There Exceptions to Utah’s Distracted Driving Laws?

Utah drivers are allowed to use their smartphones in certain circumstances, including viewing a GPS app, or making a 911 emergency call to report an accident, medical emergency, safety hazard on the road, or a crime.

While fines and penalties are important considerations and deterrents to distracted driving, it’s even more essential to consider the potential cost in human lives — either your own or that of an innocent party on the road — if texting or checking notifications causes an accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls on parents to set good examples for children by not texting and driving.