2021 Bills

HB 160: Punishment for Manipulating a Phone While Driving

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Libertas Institute opposes this bill

Staff review of the legislation finds that it violates our principles and must therefore be opposed.

In past years the Legislature has severely restricted the means by which Utahns operating vehicles may use a mobile device. One unfortunate consequence has been that drivers continue using phones yet, to avoid criminal prosecution, do so down in their laps, out of the line of sight, so the phone is not seen by passing police officers—rather than keeping the phone in their line of sight. Insurance industry research has shown that cell phone bans have in this way made the roads more dangerous.

Representative Carol Spackman Moss has sponsored House Bill 160 to completely prohibit “manipulating” (using) a phone while driving. Law enforcement executives have complained that the existing law is difficult to enforce, and some have already lined up in support of this proposal.

HB160 states that “an individual may not manually manipulate a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle,” with an exception made for “hands-free operation” or limited cases such as reporting a crime or during an emergency.

Hands-free operation has not been shown to be a safer task for a driver. In fact, there are many distracting tasks that drivers commonly engage in that are just as dangerous, if not more so, but legislators aren’t seeking to criminalize that behavior.

Criminally punishing any interaction with a phone is unnecessarily excessive and a significant over-criminalization of an activity that only accounts for the cause of just over 1 percent of highway fatalities.