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Distracted-drivers debate drags on

Has bill opened a can of worms in Legislature?

SHARE Distracted-drivers debate drags on

Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, admits he may have opened a can of worms in trying to get distracted-driving legislation passed.

"I can see why some haven't chosen to tackle this," he said. "The more I try to solve a problem, I realize I may be causing a problem."

The problem Holdaway is trying to solve is that of distracted drivers — motorists talking on cell phones, eating lunch, putting on makeup, etc.

Holdaway brought his distracted driving bill, HB67, before the House Transportation Standing Committee on Thursday. After extensive debate about the language of the bill and what exactly it should include, the committee decided to adjourn without taking any action.

Holdaway said the bill will remain with the committee, and he will try to place it on another agenda. Otherwise, it goes to the Rules Committee and will essentially die there. But Holdaway says he is confident he will get the bill to the floor this legislative session.

The bill would enable law enforcement officers to assess an additional fine of up to $50 to any driver who commits a moving violation if the officer determines that the moving violation was caused because the driver was distracted. The original bill Holdaway proposed made distracted driving a secondary offense, but a bill that was substituted Thursday eliminates the offense and makes distracted driving an issue of causation.

Rep. Don E. Bush, R-Clearfield, was in favor of the substitute bill, which he felt clarified that a motorist must be stopped for another offense.

"Just because a person had those things doesn't mean they distracted him," he said. "If you're not violating a law, they must not be distracting you."

Ruth Hardy Schmidt, whose parents were killed by a driver who ran a red light last year while reaching for a cell phone, said she is disappointed in the way the bill has turned out.

"The bill is now spineless," she said. "You've taken out the language for secondary enforcement. It's just a fine, like a parking ticket. People will pay their $50 and go on."

Previously in support of the bill because it would eliminate a patchwork of ordinances in Utah cities, she said she would rather have cities go on with what they're doing until Holdaway "puts some bite in the bill."

Holdaway added a section to the bill that would preempt any city ordinances and make it impossible for cities or jurisdictions to impose higher penalties for distracted driving, but said Thursday he thinks he will remove it to allow cities more control.

E-MAIL: lculler@desnews.com