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What the new distracted driving law means for you

Published: Saturday, May 10 2014 2:40 p.m. MDT

Utah law enforcement is cracking down on the issue of texting and driving come Tuesday, when the recent distracted driving amendments are scheduled to be enacted as law.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah law enforcement officers will begin cracking down on texting and driving Tuesday when a new law designed to prevent distracted driving takes effect.

The new law states that Utahns cannot use their cellphones for dialing while driving, according to Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, who sponsored the bill in the state Legislature this past session.

“The current law isn’t too terribly enforceable, so in this law, we have added some clarification, we’ve tightened the language, so hopefully it is enforceable," Urquhart said.

On Tuesday it will remain lawful to look up contact information, use voice commands, view GPS or navigation coordinates and talk on the phone while driving.

It will be unlawful to send, write or read text messages, instant messages or email; dial a phone number; access the Internet; view or record a video; and type in data on a smartphone or other mobile device.

For University of Utah student John Schappler, the new driving law is just enough motivation to kick his bad habit.

“I definitely find myself distracted a lot of the time if I’m ever trying to answer a text message while I drive," Schappler said. "I know that’s definitely not a good thing to be doing and it's super distracting, and I think if there was a law about it that would probably help me out … and just be like that extra little boost that I need to not do it anymore.”

Schappler, 20, said he was recently involved in a fender-bender on his way to work after being more focused on his GPS than the road.

Urquhart decided to push the law after learning that one of his constituents in St. George lost her father to a texting and driving accident that also injured her mother.

Distracted driving accounted for 19 fatalities in 2012, with cellphone usage the No. 1 cause for distraction, according to data provided by the Utah Highway Safety Office. In 2013, 17 fatalities were recorded in Utah with eight due to cell phone usage and texting, according to Gary Mower, a research analyst with the safety office.

The law was intended to increase safety by providing a more specific guideline for law enforcement.

"Any manipulation of your cellphone or your laptop while you're driving is what we are going to be looking for,” said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce.

The UHP said on Tuesday drivers can expect to see troopers stopping vehicles and issuing warning citations for texting and driving. A more regular enforcement of the law will follow the brief "educational" enforcement period.

"We don't want to go out and just write everybody tickets on the first day for texting with their cellphone. We're going to do a lot of education. We're going to do a lot of pulling people over," Royce said.

The UHP stressed that safe driving is its main goal. Regardless of the distraction, drivers will get cited if they are a hazard to the cars around them.

“If I pull up next to you and your on the freeway … and I can see that you are manipulating your cellphone, or typing on your cellphone, or looking at your cellphone while you're driving, then that is probable cause to stop you,” Royce said.

So whether drivers are sending a text or switching music genres, the longer they keep your eyes off the road, the better chance they have at getting pulled over.

“There is no ambiguity in the law, the law says dialing. It’s just a question of what are you going to do to get law enforcement's attention," Urquhart said.

Details of the new law

Drivers can:

Talk on the phone

View GPS or navigation coordinates

Use voice commands

During a medical emergency

When reporting a safety hazard or criminal activity

You cannot:

Send, write or read text messages

Send, write or read instant messages

Send, write or read email

Dial a phone number

Access the internet

View or record a video

Enter data into your hand-held device

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com , Twitter: MirandaCollette

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