In Utah, the idea of banning motorists from using hand-held cell phones has been alien to state law so far.

But in New York, even E.T. would not be allowed to phone home while driving a car.

The Empire State became the first to outlaw talking on hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle earlier this year. And since then, the drive for a similar ban in Utah has gained momentum.

Two lawmakers, Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, and Rep. Chad E. Bennion, R-Murray, have proposed separate bills for the 2002 session that place cell-phone conversations on a list of potential distractions that could result in a fine for drivers who engage in those activities.

"This is something we can live with and something that is necessary," said Holdaway, an educator. "The climate of the Legislature is interesting and whether or not I'm able to get it through or not is going to be a question. But I've got my fingers crossed."

Holdaway's HB67, Penalty for Distracted Driving, would prohibit driving while using a hand-held phone, computer or fax machine just as his HB182 did last year. But HB182 was defeated in the House by a 38-33 vote.

This year's version, HB67, has been expanded to outlaw such behaviors as combing hair, applying lipstick, shaving, eating, drinking, smoking, changing clothes and watching TV.

The proposed law, however, would be a secondary offense. That means a driver would be cited only in conjunction with another offense, such as a speeding, running a red light or some other moving violation.

If a driver is able to use the cell phone, eat, smoke or engage in other potentially distracting activities without becoming a threat to other motorists, "it's not going to be a problem," Holdaway said.

"I don't know how often it's going to be coming into play," he said of the proposed law. "I'm looking at this as an opportunity to increase awareness, similar to the seat belt legislation."

Bennion was prompted to offer a similar bill after participating in the House debate on Holdaway's bill during the last session.

"There are so many things that people do in their vehicle which to some extent reduces their ability to take care of the task of driving," Bennion said. "But I don't know why you would go out and selectively take any one thing that distracts you" and target it for legislation while ignoring other causes of inattentive driving.

Bennion's bill, HB194, Proper Lookout in Vehicles, establishes a fine of $45. Holdaway's bill carries a $50 fine. Bennion's bill includes "attending to personal hygiene" among the offending behaviors but not "grooming" as Holdaway's bill does. Bennion's bill does not include smoking nor changing clothes as distracted activities. And neither bill includes reading a book or newspaper while driving, although Bennion said he has seen drivers read.

Rulon Teerlink, a Salt Lake City retiree, is one Utahn who is convinced the proposed laws are not only appropriate but overdue. The former safety supervisor at Mark Steel said a cell phone is more dangerous than other distractions.

"They have one hand on the phone or they're leaning their head over, and when you lean your head over to hold a telephone and try to steer, you don't have the peripheral vision that you usually have," he said.

"If you drive with a sandwich or a candy bar, you can drop it. But a telephone is a little more expensive, and people take different care. Not only that, but in that situation you're not concentrating on driving."

Bans on driving while talking on a hand-held phone have been proposed in at least 40 states now, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least 23 countries, including Great Britain and Japan, prohibit the practice.

All the attention has prompted the cellular industry to become more proactive in its efforts to encourage customers to be more responsible. TV and radio commercials advise motorists to be careful about mixing driving and phoning. Even the voice-mail message of AT&T Wireless spokeswoman Cindy Larsen stresses safety on the road.

"It's something we include in almost all of our point-of-sale materials as well as public service announcements," she said. "We basically want to support education to help drivers manage their phone use responsibly while they're driving."

Holdaway says that's the sense he's getting in his meetings with industry officials.

"The cell industry is behind it," Holdaway said of his bill. "They indicated that they could support it. They wouldn't fight it."

Holdaway said even if the bill doesn't pass, he hopes it will generate more discussion of the subject and make the public more aware of the dangers of cell-phone use while driving.

"I don't think you're going to have a lot of support for anything that's too onerous, that was my point last year," Bennion added. "If we do something, I hope we do it in a way that doesn't just punish a certain type of behavior without looking at anything else that could fit within the category."

Holdaway and Bennion said they were unfamiliar with each other's bills. Bennion said if they turn out to be very similar, he could drop his and let Holdaway carry the legislation.


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