Police say they will proactively enforce teen driver cellphone ban

May 14 2013 - 6:04am

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OGDEN -- Teen drivers are advised to put their cellphones down while driving their vehicles or they will be cited, police say.

The new bill restricting use of the wireless telephone, passed by the 2013 state Legislature, took effect today. The law restricts anyone younger than 18 from using a cellphone while operating a vehicle.

"We will enforce it," Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. Susan Poulsen said of the law that includes a $25 citation.

The cellphone citation is a nonreportable traffic offense, meaning it will not appear on the driver's permanent record. However, the cellphone ban is a primary offense, allowing officers to pull over any teen driver found using a cellphone while driving, she said.

Previously, officers had to witness the teen motorist committing a moving violation before pulling them over for being on a cellphone, Poulsen said.

"It is something that, when deputies observe these types of activity taking place, they will stop the vehicle and investigate further," she said.

"We are hoping that this will increase safety on the highway and reduce accidents. And we're hoping that the youths will know that this law is now in effect and that they will comply," Poulsen said of the large number of teenage drivers on Utah roads.

The advice police give to teens is, if they must use their cellphone, safely pull to the side of the road to make their call or wait until they reach their next destination.

While the new law prohibits drivers up to age 18 from talking on a cellphone, there are exceptions designed to maintain safety.

The exceptions include using a cellphone to report a medical or safety hazard, to request assistance related to a safety hazard, to report criminal activity, to request assistance related to a criminal activity or to communicate with a parent or guardian.

Poulsen said the new law helps law enforcement officials do their job and helps prevent teen motorists from making a bigger mistake when driving while distracted.

"(The new law is) an important tool that allows us, at the very least, to stop and talk to younger drivers," Ogden Police Lt. Chad Ledford said.

Police will now be able to use the stops to talk to teens of the dangers of distracted driving, Ledford said. "(It) is more of an educational stop.

"We will definitely be fair with them," he said.

"Younger drivers just don't understand the dangers of distracted driving," Ledford said, which in addition to cellphone use includes other distractions such as playing with the radio or talking with others in the vehicle.

Cellphones are a necessary evil in this day and age, and many people think they can multitask, Ledford said.

"That is not necessarily just directed at younger drivers only. People just need to drive," said Ledford, who has worked for eight years in the department's traffic division and has witnessed firsthand the dangers and aftermath of distracted driving.

Laws designed to protect teens while driving are effective. According to the Utah Highway Safety Office's 2010 Utah Crash Summary, teen fatal crashes have declined 53 percent since the first Graduated Driver Licensing Law was enacted, according to Utah AAA.

"Even though teen fatal crashes have been reduced through teen driving laws, we know young drivers are still overly represented in crashes," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Brigham City. Perry was a co-sponsor of the new cellphone restriction bill.

"Teens make up 8 percent of the drivers, but were in 21 percent of all crashes in Utah," Perry said of the 2010 summary.

Texting and driving in Utah is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and up to a $750 fine. Police could pull drivers over for texting on the road, but until now, not for talking on the phone.

Nationally, 33 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of law on the books restricting teens or new drivers from cellphone use on the roads.

Neighboring Arizona does not have a texting ban, while California has made it illegal to text or talk on a hand-held phone while in the driver's seat.

A report from the Utah Department of Public Safety shows that distracted driving caused about 4,900 Utah crashes in 2011. Drivers between ages 15 and 19 caused about one in five of those crashes.

More than half of 16- and 17-year-olds nationwide who have phones said they have talked on a cellphone while driving, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center. The study found that two out of five teens said they have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that endangered the driver and others.

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