The bill's sponsor, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, a Highway Patrol officer, said it is akin to other restrictions placed on young drivers going through graduated license procedures including, for a time, not allowing passengers in their car besides parents, and not permitting driving between midnight and 5 a.m.
"It gives us an ability to teach our young people, who are learning how to drive, the very best practices," Perry said. He added that teens account for 8 percent of Utah's licensed drivers, but they are involved in 21 percent of accidents.
He said it is intended only as an educational bill, and originally proposed a fine of only $50 for violations. But Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, amended that to just a $25 fine. "I want the education to be a little less expensive," he said.
In response to Gibson's complaint that lawmakers are trying to get teens to do what too many adults will not do, Perry said he hopes it encourages all drivers to quit using cell phones and said polls show that 93 percent of Utah drivers realize it increases danger.
The bill will ban even the use of hands-free cell phones by young drivers. Perry noted that cell-phone studies at the University of Utah have shown that drivers who talk on handheld or hands-free cell phones are just as impaired as drunk drivers.
In earlier committee action, the bill had passed even though several members worried it infringed too much on personal liberty and could create a "slippery slope" toward banning cell phone use for all drivers. Neither objection was voiced during debate Monday by the full House.
Similar bills to ban cell phone use by teens have failed for the past three years.