SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would prohibit minors from talking on a cellphone while driving was reconsidered Wednesday and passed by the Senate, 17-12.
The bill already passed the House and will now go to the governor for his consideration.
HB103, sponsored by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, would still allow teens to call in medical emergencies, road hazards or criminal acts — or to speak with parents or legal guardians. Violating the proposed law would be an infraction, and teens could be fined a maximum of $25. No points, however, would be assessed against a teen's driving record for such violations.
The bill was defeated 11-13 in the Senate on Tuesday, but a motion to reconsider the bill was successful because five senators didn't vote previously.
“This is a different issue than my right to wear a helmet. This is even a different issue than my right to wear a seat belt,” Hillyard said. “I'm talking about people driving cars at speeds that kill people.”
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, again reiterated his objections to the bill, saying the violation already exists in a broader law.
“The issue is not a cellphone. The issue is somebody not taking responsibility for responsible driving,” he said. “Any driver, any age, any distraction, any moving violation is already a class B misdemeanor.”
Thatcher said the bill would make actions illegal that are not causing problems.
“If we're going to turn around and blame cellphones as a distraction, should we not ban radio or food?” he asked.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, agreed.
“I rise in opposition to the continual micromanaging of every behavior that our teens engage in. Distracted driving, no matter what causes it, is already illegal. And we need to allow people to make those judgments,” she said.
Other senators rose in support of the bill.
“Teens have rules at school, they have rules at home, and these are things we give them to transform into thoughtful and careful adults,” said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. “This is just another thing we can do to give them the tools that ensure they come home safe tonight.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the bill sends the right message.
“Sure, distracted driving is illegal, but how many people know about that?” Weiler asked. “As this bill passes, it will get publicity and be talked about in every driver's education class in the state. It sends the right message. It educates our kids and that is what saves lives.”
Violation of the proposed law would be an infraction, which is a lower penalty than the distracted driving misdemeanor, Hillyard noted.
Jodi Breck, a Pleasant Grove mother of four, said the proposed law is a step in the right direction.
“I see kids leaving the school parking lot, talking on their cellphone and almost rear end me,” Breck said. “I've seen kids run stop signs while talking on the cellphone and followed kids going 10 mph in a 25 mph zone all because of the cellphone in their hand. It is very annoying when I'm trying to be a defensive driver and really just don't know what the driver in front or behind me is going to do.”
Teens themselves vary in their opinion of the bill.
“The law says teens under 18 can be charged? What?” asked Briger Lee Illi, 18. “What if we get an important call from a family member or our work?”
Illi said the new law should not target teens, as most of the adults in his life are on the phone while driving.
“I think it's stupid,” he said. “Just because they're older doesn't mean they're more aware of what they're doing while driving.”
For 16-year-old Amber Nielsen, the new law will be an adjustment.
“I could be pulled over and charged for doing something that has been normal since I was a little girl,” she said. “I'm so used to having my phone accessible and being able to call anyone when I need to.”
As inconvenient as the law may be, however, Nielsen said she stands in favor of the new legislation.
“It's a smart law,” she said. “It's important to keep all your focus on the road, especially since driving can be so dangerous.”
Kaylee Smith, 16, just got her driver's license at the end of February. Though the new law comes just as she begins driving, she says it doesn't affect her.
“My mom said she would take my driving privileges away if she ever caught me talking on the phone,” she said.
Smith said the new law may be beneficial to those just getting into the habit of driving, but that judgment call should be left to teens as they get older.
“If you had your license for more than a year, I think it's OK,” she said. “What if you need to pick up a sibling from practice, but you can't answer the phone?”