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Distracted driving is now a factor in at least 15 percent of all accidents, resulting in more than 3,300 injuries and 27 deaths in Utah in 2016, according to the most recent data.

A measure making it a primary offense to use a cellphone while driving will again make its way to the Utah Legislature, just as more data demonstrate the danger of the practice and the need to address it more forcefully.

Distracted driving is now a factor in at least 15 percent of all traffic collisions, resulting in more than 3,300 injuries and 27 deaths in Utah in 2016, according to the most recent data. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, will file a bill similar to measures she has sponsored in past legislative sessions that would allow police to pull over someone for using a phone while behind the wheel.

While details need to be debated, we support statutes that will deter the behavior by giving law enforcement more muscle.

There are two good reasons why. First, 15 states have enacted similar laws, and 12 of them have seen significant decreases in accident rates. Second, the problem in Utah continues to grow. In 2007, the state passed its first law making it a secondary offense for using a phone while driving, and in the following year, the number of collisions tied to cellphone distraction dropped 24 percent. Since then, they have climbed annually, probably in part because fines are relatively small and not widely levied. Statutes against distracted driving should carry enough clout to serve as a deterrent.

Arguments against Moss’ proposed bill fail to hold equal weight. Critics say it would allow police to penalize people for doing something that’s not necessarily dangerous. It is dangerous, puts others at risk and is not a hardship for those who wish to pull over to use their phones.

Another criticism holds the law wouldn’t be strong enough since it allows hands-free use of phones through bluetooth devices, which studies show is also dangerous. But a primary offense law would at least allow police to more vigorously patrol against distracted driving, and it’s important the state acts to begin changing a culture that has become far too permissive in allowing users to forfeit concentration on driving.

17 comments on this story

It’s only common sense that drivers should be in full command of their vehicle at all times. That means resisting the temptation to check an email as well as eating a sandwich, shuffling through a playlist or using the rearview mirror to check on hair and makeup. Too many people who believed they could handle the road at the same time have been proven tragically wrong.

It’s time for Utah lawmakers to engage in serious, meaningful discussion and debate beyond the spurious arguments about personal freedoms and overzealous regulation when it comes to laws that hard numbers show will prevent injuries and save lives.