Driving-texting banned, but cell chatting survives

Distractions » Riesen vows to push for end to phone use at the wheel.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Leila O'Dell believes Utah lawmakers spared other families her agony over losing a loved one when they banned driving while sending a text message.

Now if they would just take the next step and outlaw cell-phone use behind the wheel, she would rest easier. Several bills restricting phone use, including one that barred it outright for drivers, stalled as the 2009 Legislature came to a close.

"I'm going to write to all of my local legislators for sure and ask that they pursue cell phones next year," said O'Dell, a Logan resident whose husband, Keith, was one of two men killed in 2006 when a 19-year-old motorist who was text-messaging slammed into their car.

"It's more dangerous than drunk driving," O'Dell said, referring to University of Utah psychology research that tested drivers on a road simulator while they talked on the phone. "If they listen to any of the experts, they'll know that."

Still, O'Dell is glad texting behind the wheel will become a misdemeanor crime if the governor signs the bill that lawmakers passed, and she believes Cache County authorities will begin investigating for phone use after each accident -- same as they check for alcohol.

The Legislature approved the texting ban proposed by Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, but didn't act on several cell-phone bills. One was an outright ban -- hand-held or hands-free -- proposed by Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Holladay.

Riesen said he believed his bill got hung up in committee until too late in the session as retribution for an ethics complaint he filed against a fellow lawmaker last fall.

"I fully intend to run a cell-phone bill again next session," Riesen said. "It's an absolute safety concern."

Sixteen people, he added, have died on Utah roads in the past four years because of texting and cell phones.

Riesen said he senses momentum for going further -- now that Utah has banned texting while driving.

Not so, said Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne. While Ferry voted against the texting ban, he understands its appeal: Pounding out those messages while driving is inherently dangerous.

But, Ferry predicted, Riesen's cell-phone ban will fail again next year because too many lawmakers believe it's unnecessary. Drivers already are cited if they drive recklessly, regardless of the cause.

"The use of a phone is not a moving violation," he said. Nonetheless, he's ready for another session with the same debate. "Bad ideas keep coming back."


Mobile communications bills

» HB290, by Rep. Stephen Clark, banning texting while driving: passed.

» HB95, by Rep. Phil Riesen, banning all cell-phone use while driving: failed.

» HB248, by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, restricting car phones to hands-free: failed.