Utah Cracks Down On Distracted Driving

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A streamlined distracted driving law designed to aid enforcement and define what is and is not legal in Utah took effect on May 13, 2014. Beyond texting and driving—which has been illegal in Utah for some time—the revised law specifically bans “instant messages,” email, physically dialing phone numbers, accessing the internet, viewing or recording video and “entering data” into a handheld device.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted DrivingIn Utah S. B. 253, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart (R – District 29) and Sen. Don L. Ipson (R – District 75), the Utah Legislature believes it has succeeded in its dual goals of aiding law enforcement and clarifying what is—and what isn’t—considered distracted driving under the law. Fines of $100 or more may be levied for a violation.

Bans on texting and driving are not unique to Utah. Forty-three states have enacted laws seeking to restrict distracted driving. The Utah amendments broaden prohibited activity beyond sending text messages. Given the fact that people are using their phones for everything from ordering pizza to streaming music to videoconferencing, broadening the definition of distracted driving would seem to make sense.

Educating Drivers About the Dangers of Distracted Driving

Sgt. Todd Royce, of the Utah Highway Patrol, spoke with the Daily Herald and expressed the hope that drivers will use the law as an impetus for a change in behavior. Sgt. Royce stressed the importance of educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving, and confirmed that in the initial weeks of the new enforcement period, police would issue more warnings than actual tickets.

According to Distraction.gov, the Federal Government’s web resource for distracted driving, in 2012 over 3,300 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. Those 3,300 fatalities were part of an estimated 421,000 injuries attributed to distracted driving in the same year. The numbers are harrowing. Cellphone use while driving is a major problem on US roads, and laws such as the amended Utah statute are essential. Even more chilling is the fact that drivers in their 20s make up 27% of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. Educating young drivers is essential to highway safety.

Goal Is to Increase Safety

As any foray into public will prove, people of all ages are dependent upon their cellphones. But what many view as their lifeline to the world at large is in fact a very real danger on the roads. The Utah law seems very clear on its surface—unless a driver is audibly talking on the phone or consulting their GPS, manipulation of a cellphone is illegal. As the law is implemented, it will be interesting to see whether Utah accident statistics reflect a reduction in distracted driver-related accidents.

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