On May 14 a new Utah law takes effect that bans teen drivers from using a cell phone while driving. House Bill 103 sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry and Senate sponsor, Lyle Hillyard, is designed to protect new drivers from distraction as they develop and hone their driving skills. While the new law prohibits drivers up to 18 years of age from talking on a cell phone, there are exceptions designed to maintain safety. These exceptions include using a cell phone to report a medical or safety hazard, to request assistance related to a safety hazard, to report criminal activity, to request assistance related to a criminal activity, or to communicate with a parent or legal guardian. The fine is $25, it is a non-reportable violation and points will not be assessed against the teen’s driving record. This is the newest law directed at teen drivers. Previous laws include the Graduated Driving Laws, which include extra hours of practice time before getting a license, a passenger limitation component and a nighttime ban for new drivers. An anti-texting law for all drivers also makes the driving experience safer for teens. Laws designed to protect teens during their early years of driving are effective. According to the Utah Highway Safety Office’s 2010 Utah Crash Summary, teen fatal crashes have declined 53 percent since the first Graduated Driver Licensing Law was enacted. Even though teen fatal crashes have been reduced through teen driving laws, we know young drivers are still overly represented in crashes. Teens make up 8 percent of the drivers but were in 21 percent of all crashes in Utah, said Representative Lee Perry, bill sponsor and Highway Patrol Lieutenant. This law addresses a major safety concern we have with young drivers. We know from recent surveys that the majority of high school students admit to talking on a cell phone while driving. Cell phone use is the leading driver distraction in Utah. A number of businesses recognize this and are now banning their employees from using a cell phone while driving on company business, said Sen. Hillyard, Senate sponsor of the bill. This new cell phone law, coupled with the anti-texting law, will help keep driver distractions at a minimum, resulting in safer roads for all Utahns. No one can tell me that you can safely use a cell phone and drive, said Elissa Schee, mother of a child killed when a trucker, talking on a cell phone, hit the school bus in which she was riding. My daughter was in a big, yellow school bus. The trucker, who hit the bus, admitted he did not see it, even though he was following the bus. That is what cognitive distraction causes when you are using a cell phone and trying to drive. We hope that this law will give parents the opportunity to talk with their teen drivers and explain that using a cell phone while driving is not an option for their family, said Rolayne Fairclough, AAA Utah spokesperson and legislative advocate for the law. After that, we hope teens will remind their friends that using a cell phone is a dangerous distraction. Changing behavior is difficult but, if everyone on the road recognizes the importance of driving without distraction and reminds others to concentrate on their driving, our roads will be safer.
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