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A bill to allow pregnant drivers to use the HOV lane fails in committee

Senators expressed concerns about enforcement, possible loss of federal highway funds

SHARE A bill to allow pregnant drivers to use the HOV lane fails in committee
A driver travels in the HOV lane on I-15 in Lehi, Utah.

A driver travels in the high-occupancy vehicle lane on I-15 in Lehi on July 12, 2018.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

In several Utah laws, including ones on homicide and abortion, an unborn fetus is considered a separate person, but when it comes to carpool lanes that may not be the case.

In the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee on Monday, a bill that would allow pregnant drivers to use the carpool lane on Utah highways failed 3-2 because of legal concerns.

Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, was among the three senators who voted against the legislation, passed in the House 49-23 earlier this month.

There’s “nobody in the world more pro-life than I am,” he said, “But I think we’re asking highway patrol to do the impossible to try and enforce this, and I’m concerned that our federal funding for highways is at risk.”

Leif Elder, the UDOT director of legislative affairs, said, “as we looked into this issue, it is true we’re not in violation of the federal law as they pertain to HOV lanes.”

However, he said, there is “guidance from the Federal Highway Administration” that “does say that a fetus cannot be counted as an occupant.” 

Despite not being written in the law, the guidance could provide grounds for “federal funds that could be withheld,” Elder said.

“We felt like that was a very small possibility,” he said, “We decided to just kind of let things play out, and we felt like the risk was small enough.” 

HB256, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Gricius, R-Eagle Mountain, is a “simple bill with a couple of very complex, nuanced pieces,” Gricius said.

The bill essentially, she said, is life-affirming and recognizes “that there is a second person in a vehicle,” when a driver is pregnant. 

The complexity comes when talking about implementation. The Utah Highway Patrol, she said, is prepared to take on the challenge.

“(The highway patrol has) authorized me to let the committee know that they will enforce. They are not concerned about what that looks like,” Gricius said.

The highway patrol has already discussed how training will work, and if “a woman is improperly ticketed” there is a process where she can submit documents to the court and receive an automatic dismissal, she said.

The committee discussion quickly became engulfed in the abortion issue in Utah. 

Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah, said, “We love any legislation that supports mothers and unborn babies.”

“To (solve the abortion crisis) we must change our culture,” Taylor said. “This bill makes an affirmative statement that we do value unborn babies and their mammas.”

But the pro-life community is not on the same page about the bill.

Kelly Martinson, a pro-life Utah resident, said, “Trying to establish personhood through the carpool lane devalues both a mother and her child.”

“The mother already knows the baby is human,” she said. “We don’t need the carpool lane to tell us that.”

Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, voted for the bill.