HB 13: Criminalizing the Holding of a Cell Phone While Driving
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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.
Representative Carol Spackman Moss has sponsored House Bill 13 to completely prohibit holding 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.
HB13 states that “an individual may not hold or use a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle,” which an exception made for “hands-free operation” or limited cases such as reporting a crime or during an emergency.
Still, the hands-free operation is not legally allowed for viewing or recording a video, or reading a text message or email.
Not every vehicle is able to easily mount a cell phone, nor is every phone enabled for hands-free operation. And, importantly, not every person who holds a phone in their hands—say, while talking on the speakerphone and keeping the phone in their hand while also on the wheel—is a criminal or a threat to nearby drivers.
Criminally punishing the mere holding of a phone is unnecessarily excessive and a significant over-criminalization of an activity that is not inherently dangerous.