SALT LAKE CITY -- One day after killing a proposal that would ban teenagers from using their cell phone while driving, the Senate did an about-face, resurrected the bill and passed it.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, explained to the senators on Wednesday morning that the supporters of the bill in the Senate were off the floor when it came up for a vote on Tuesday. He made sure those senators were able to vote this time and passed his bill on a vote of 17-12.
Hillyard argued to the Senate that the state has tried educating teens about the dangers of cell phone use while driving but that it doesn't seem to be making a significant difference. He said law enforcement officials tell him they still see injuries and deaths caused by teenage drivers using cell phones despite those efforts and that they would like to see a ban.
The penalty that a teen would face under the bill is minimal. Teens would be issued a $25 fine and it would not count against their driver's license. Teens can use their phone without penalty if they are calling their parents or reporting an emergency. Hillyard said the bill is mostly about informing young people to drive responsibly.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, rose in opposition to the bill, for a second day in a row, stating distracted driving is already illegal in the state. He explained a person could be charged with a class B misdemeanor already under the law if a law enforcement officer deems a driver's actions worthy of the charge. Thatcher wondered if the Legislature banned cell phones for teenagers if they should also ban radios in the car because they also distract teens.
"The issue is not cell phones, the issue is someone who does not take responsibly for the serious action of driving a vehicle," Thatcher said.
Parents of teenagers in the Senate were split on the issue. Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said the bill was micromanaging parents. Henderson, a mother of four teens, said the government needs to allow parents to decide if their child is prepared to use a phone while driving. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, a father of two teens, said teens know laws about driving because they are excited for the privilege to drive. He stated passing the law would increase their knowledge about not driving distracted.
"I think it will serve as a deterrent," he said.
The bill now moves forward to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature or veto.