State law prevents Salt Lake City from forcing motorists to turn off their cell phones while driving, but Mayor Rocky Anderson is asking them to do so anyway.

Standing alongside friends and family of 17-year-old Lauren Mulkey, a Salt Lake City girl who died in March when her car was hit by a 19-year-old driver allegedly distracted by his cell phone, Anderson on Thursday announced his new Salt Lake City Cell-Safe campaign.

The Web-based effort, at www.slccellsafe.com, asks city residents, businesses and students to sign a voluntary pledge that they will not use their mobile phones — whether for talking, texting, taking photos, looking up information or anything else — while they are behind the wheel.

"These are tragic deaths in our community that reach so many people," the mayor said. "It's easy enough: Pull over."

Individuals and businesses who sign the pledge will receive a free window decal declaring them to be a "Cell-Safe Citizen," "Cell-Safe Student" or "Cell-Safe Business." It's an effort to raise public awareness of the issue — and, Anderson said, maybe to change the way people think about driving while phoning.

"It is also a major consciousness-raising effort," he said. "We want to get the message to everybody: It is very uncool."

In the same way most people currently look down on those who drive while drunk, Anderson said, he hopes one day driving while distracted by mobile devices will also be a social faux pas.

Already, one major Utah employer has joined the program. Kennecott's mining and land operations have signed the pledge.

Kennecott spokeswoman Jana Kettering said the phone-free driving policy is a longstanding one for Kennecott Utah Copper and Kennecott Land.

"This is our way of doing business for many years," Kettering said. "We have a really strong safety culture in the Kennecott companies."

Participation in Salt Lake's Cell-Safe campaign means nothing new for Kennecott employees, but the company's support of Cell-Safe gives the city's program a big boost of support. Kennecott employs about 1,700 people in the Salt Lake Valley.

A 2006 University of Utah study reported that cell-phone distractions are as dangerous for drivers as intoxication. Anderson cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report that in 2005 there were at least 251 crashes on Utah roads that resulted from cell-phone use.

Liz Foxley said Thursday that the death of Mulkey, a close friend, "changed all of our lives forever. We really miss Lauren. It shouldn't have happened. It could have been prevented."

In April, Anderson issued an executive order prohibiting most city employees from using their phones while driving on city business. The order excluded police officers, City Council members and their staff, as well as any city employee using a phone to report an emergency.

The mayor had considered asking the council to support an ordinance banning cell-phone use for all drivers within city limits, but he said his staff was "shocked to find" that a 2006 Utah law gives only the state the right to restrict drivers' cell-phone use.

Last year, lawmakers failed to approve a bill that would have prohibited motorists younger than 18 from calling or text messaging while driving.

On Thursday, Anderson criticized the Legislature's "irresponsibility." Even so, he added, "we don't need laws to ban these things. We need good common sense."


E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com