There's no disputing that it's dangerous to talk on the phone while driving. For the safety of people traveling Utah's roads, the Legislature should outlaw driving while phoning. However, lawmakers have repeatedly refused to do that, arguing that it would be an intrusion on personal freedom and on people whose business relies on them phoning while driving.
It appears, then, that the best hope for improved cell phone safety in the current legislative session is a bill that would outlaw phoning while driving for drivers under 18 years old. Sen. Ross Romero, the sponsor of SB128, argues that inexperienced drivers shouldn't be on the phone when they are behind the wheel. He's right, of course, although the same could be said for drivers of any age.
Ironically, one of the premier arguments against Romero's bill is that it would be unenforceable because officers could not tell by looking at them whether young drivers were under the age of 18. Good point. The answer, though, is to make the phoning ban apply to every driver regardless of age.
The bill includes exceptions that would allow young drivers to use the phone during a medical emergency, when reporting a safety hazard or requesting assistance related to a safety hazard, when reporting a crime or communicating with a parent. All are sensible.
A maximum fine of $50 would apply. Oddly, though, a violation would not result in points against the driver's record, and it would not be reportable.
It is understandable that people think they can drive safely while on the phone. Many folks do it all the time without getting into accidents. Many people also drive after drinking alcohol, but that does not mean it is safe. That's another irony, because some studies show that a person's level of impairment is about the same when on the phone as when legally drunk behind the wheel.
In fact, the evidence of driver impairment from talking on the phone is so indisputable that in December the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on driver use of portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. So far Utah has banned texting while driving, but it has not taken the further step of banning voice communications on electronic devices.
One of the first scientific studies to quantify the problem estimated that 16,000 people were killed in the United States between 2001 and 2007 because of talking or texting while driving.
Obviously that's a phone message that Utah legislators prefer to ignore.