The Park Record editorial, February 11-14, 2012
Even though evidence abounds that talking on cell phones while driving can be deadly, and regardless of the fact that 42 states now have laws in place that ban teen drivers from talking and or texting with cell phones, Utah legislators have been reluctant to address the issue. Texting is currently banned for all Utah drivers but talking on a cell phone is not.
This week, however, Utah Senator Ross Romero has been patiently shepherding a bill through the legislature that would prohibit teens under the age 18 from talking on cell phones while driving, except in an emergency. Senate Bill 128 has passed out of the Senate by a vote of 19 to 9 and was introduced in the House of Representative late this week.
Notwithstanding the urgency of the problem, Romero is facing an uphill battle.
Even though the bill’s language has been watered down to exclude uses other than communicating with another person (meaning GPS use and fiddling with a phone to play music would still be allowed) and would only affect teens in their first two years of driving, approval is not a slam dunk. Some law enforcement representatives have balked, saying the new law would be hard to enforce, and several legislators said they oppose SB128 because it could lead to broader bans on cell-phone use.
Those fears are probably well founded. In December the National Transportation Safety Board made headlines by recommending a ban on all non-emergency cell phone use by all drivers.
If anything, Romero’s bill does not go far enough. Helping young drivers develop a habit of turning off their phones when they get behind the wheel is a good start. But we wouldn’t blame local teens a bit if they complained that SB 128 unfairly discriminates against them. Distracted drivers are a hazard to everyone on the road, regardless of how old they are.
Unfortunately, the prevailing wisdom in Utah seems to be: I’ll give you my phone when you pry it from my cold, dead hands! The fact is, for those who make a habit of using their phones while driving, prying probably won’t be necessary.
To voice your support for Senate Bill 128, call or email your legislators but not while you are driving! Their contact information can be found at: http://le.utah.gov/
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