Utah bans teen drivers from cellphone use

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah teens who talk on the cellphone while driving could be ticketed and fined $25 starting Tuesday.

A new law banning 16- and 17-year-olds from talking behind the wheel takes effect, though it exempts teens if they are calling parents and also exclude minors who are in an emergency or reporting a crime.

If teens get a ticket for driving and talking, it would not count toward points on their driving records.

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.

Nationally, 33 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of law on the books restricting teens or new drivers from cellphone use on the roads.

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.

A report from the Utah Department of Public Safety shows that distracted driving caused about 4,900 Utah crashes in 2011. Drivers between 15 and 19 years old caused about 1 in 5 of those crashes.

More than half of 16- and 17-year-olds nationwide who have phones said they have talked on a cellphone while driving, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research center. Two out of 5 teens said they have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that endangered the driver and others, the study found.

The fine is enough to make teens think twice about dialing friends while they drive, said Perry Republican Rep. Lee Perry, who sponsored the 2013 legislation.

“A lot of teen drivers have admitted that they like to talk on the cellphone, and that’s not a best behavior,” he said. “As you’re learning how to drive, we want you to learn to drive effectively, without these other problems and distractions.”

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