Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Spectators watch from the gallery on the Senate chambers during the opening day of the Utah State Legislature Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 in the Utah State Capitol. On Friday, a Senate committee voted a bill that would ban teens from using cellphones while driving.
What we're talking about is creating a climate — a safer climate for young drivers —Rolayne Fairclough, American Automobile Association

SALT LAKE CITY — Proponents of a bill that would ban teens from using cellphones while driving say the proposal will save young lives.

But a similar bill failed to pass the Legislature in 2011, and this year's version barely survived a 3-2 Utah Senate committee vote Friday.

The proposal would allow drivers under 18 to use a cellphone only in emergency situations or to talk to their parents.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, acknowledged that the bill would be impractical for police to enforce. "It would rely on self-regulation as most laws do," he said.

But he cited a February 2011 letter in support of the proposal from the Utah chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

"Contrary to arguments that cell phone bans for teen drivers are difficult to enforce, knowing that it's against the law is enough for many teens to choose to comply with the law and increase parental oversight."

Romero added, "This is an opportunity for parents to have this conversation with young drivers."

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who voted against the bill, said that while reducing driving fatalities is very important, there are a number of distractions that lead to crashes — anything from eating, applying makeup, even adjusting one's glasses.

"I'm not sure we can regulate inappropriate behavior," Adams said.

Representing the American Automobile Association, Rolayne Fairclough told lawmakers that the proposal would be an extension of the graduated driver license program that Utah first began implementing for young drivers in 1999.

The program restricts less experienced drivers from driving with multiple passengers, at night or without parents for a certain period of time.

"What we're talking about is creating a climate — a safer climate for young drivers," Fairclough said.

She cited Utah Department of Public Safety statistics that show the rate of teenage driver crashes decreased over 50 percent between 1998 and 2010, and the fatal teenage crash rate decreased 64 percent over the same time.

The bill is "appropriately tailored to a time when people are getting adjusted to learning to drive," Romero added.

According to the Utah Department of Health, preliminary data from a recent survey show that 84 percent of Utah adults support banning cellphone use for drivers under 18, and 70 percent support such a ban for all drivers.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, made a motion to move the bill on to the full Senate. "It's a big piece of legislation that will affect a lot of people and we should let our colleagues vote on it," she said.