SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Hang up the phone, then start the car. That's the lesson Utah lawmakers say they want to send to teens just getting comfortable behind the wheel.
Under a measure proposed in the Legislature, 16- and 17-year-olds who talk on the phone while driving in Utah would face a ticket and a $50 fine.
Right now, "these teens have an inflated sense that they're not going to get caught," said Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who sponsors the bill. Perry characterized the measure as a slap on the wrist that would teach minors to adopt good behavior on the road.
A House committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the bill, calling it an important safety measure and a teaching tool for new drivers. But lawmakers and others also debated whether the measure would set a precedent of overregulation in the state.
The Utah bill applies only to minors, Perry said, because "once they get to be an adult, they can choose" how to drive responsibly.
The law would exempt teens who are texting or calling parents or guardians, or who are in an emergency or reporting a crime. And tickets given for driving and talking would not carry points toward suspending or revoking teen drivers' licenses.
Right now, texting and driving in Utah is a misdemeanor punishable up to three months in jail and up to a $750 fine. Police can pull drivers over for texting on the road, but not for talking on the phone.
All but five states have some sort of texting ban in place. 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.
Nationally, over half of 16- and 17-year-olds who have phones say they have talked on a cellphone while driving, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research center. Two out of five teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that endangered the driver and others, the study found.
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