When people talk about distracted driving, the first thing that comes to their mind is someone texting. But what about talking on the phone and answering phone calls while driving? Do these activities constitute distracted driving in Salt Lake City and elsewhere in Utah?
Contrary to the popular belief, there is nothing police in Utah can do if they see a driver using his/her hands to answer a phone call while driving unless that driver (a) causes a car accident and/or (b) is seen weaving in and out of the lanes. “In other cases, police have no authority to pull over motorists for talking on the phone while driving,” says our Salt Lake City car accident attorney at the Jardine Law Offices, P.C.
The existing distracted driving law in Utah could have been modified earlier this year, but lawmakers in Salt Lake City curbed a bill that would make it a primary traffic offense for motorists to be using their hands to answer phone calls while operating a vehicle. For better or worse, the House Transportation Committee voted 3-5 against the so-called “hands-free cellphone bill” even though 15 other states across our nation have enacted similar bills in the recent years.
Cellphones continue to be the leading cause of distracted driving, and still contribute to hundreds of thousands of car crashes across the United States every year. But what does the current Utah law say about distracted driving? Is it illegal to talk on the phone while driving in Utah?
Our experienced car accident attorney in Salt Lake City explains that it is currently illegal for motorists to hold a phone to their ear to take a phone call while operating a vehicle in Utah. But that is where it gets tricky: talking on the phone while holding it to the ear is classified as a secondary offense. Meaning: police do not have the authority to pull over motorists who are seen holding their phones or talking on the phone while driving unless they cause a car accident.
It is interesting to explore how Utah’s distracted driving laws evolved over the years. In 2007, lawmakers in Utah enacted a law that prohibited the use of handheld phones while operating vehicles, though drivers who violated the law could be punished only if distracted driving resulted in a traffic violation. Two years later, in 2009, lawmakers made it illegal to text and send emails while driving.
Distracted driving laws in Utah were once again strengthened in 2014, when the state prohibited other uses of cellphones while driving, not just texting and sending emails. That year, it was made illegal to use a cellphone in any way except for using GPS apps and hands-free voice communication while driving.
The new law was supposed to make it illegal to use hands to answer phone calls while driving by turning it into a primary offense. Many argue that expanding police’s authority in that regard would help reduce the number of car accidents in Salt Lake City and all across Utah, as police officers would be able to nip the problem of distracted driving in the bud.
Experts argue that driving while using a cellphone is the same as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent, as it increases the risk of causing a car crash by four times. Moreover, experts advocate for the “hands-free cellphone bill” because using a cellphone while driving creates three types of distractions: cognitive, manual, and visual.
In a nutshell, while everyone realizes the dangers of using a cellphone while operating a vehicle and the increased risk of causing a car accident associated with the use of phones in the vehicle, lawmakers in Utah are reluctant to make all forms of distracted driving a primary offense. For now, using hands to talk on the phone while driving is only a secondary offense, meaning that police do not have the authority to pull over drivers who engage in this activity unless they cause a car crash or are seen weaving in and out of the lanes.
Have you been asked to pull over while talking on the phone? Consult with our Salt Lake City car accident attorney from the Jardine Law Offices, P.C. to find out your best legal options. Call our offices at 801-350-3506 or complete this contact form to get a free consultation.