Bill prohibits text messaging while driving

By Trent Lowe, Staff Writer

The Utah Legislature passed a bill on Thursday evening that will inflict severe penalties for drivers caught text messaging while driving.

Drivers who seen text messaging will be issued a class C misdemeanor, the same penalty that is given for speeding tickets. Lawmakers are attempting to minimize the amount of distractions to drivers to make the roads safer.

“The study at the University of Utah said that texting, using your hands and your mind while you’re driving, is twice as bad as a drunk driver,” said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who is the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

The bill also includes stipulations for repeat offenders and those involved in accidents while text messaging on the road. If a person is cited twice in a span of three years or is involved in an accident, a class B misdemeanor, the equivalent of reckless driving, will be issued. If a person is involved in an accident and kills someone, the charge rises to automobile homicide, a third-degree felony.

“I would hope that the message we can give is that parents themselves will realize that when they take the responsibility to drive a car, that should be their main and principal focus,” Hillyard said.

On the last day of legislative sessions, the bill didn’t go without opposition. Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Beaver, attempted to amend the bill, asking that text messaging while driving be considered a secondary offense. The amendment would have prevented police from citing a person for text messaging alone; a policeman would have to cite another infraction before a punishment could be affixed to the text messaging.

The bill has been sent to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for his signature.

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