Distracted driving was implicated in almost 10 percent of Utah vehicle crashes in 2016 and contributed to more two-dozen deaths across the state.

Research suggests these figures drastically underreport the state’s incidence texting and driving accidents, which may, in fact, contribute to significantly larger numbers of accidents, injuries and deaths. Precise numbers are difficult to obtain for Utah because of the way the state’s driving laws are structured.

Utah texting and driving regulations are secondary laws, which means that they cannot be enforced independently. Law enforcement officers can only stop drivers for texting if the driver is also committing a moving violation, such as weaving in and out of lanes or is visibly non-compliant with some other primary law.

These constraints limit efforts by DMV offices and police to stop the dangerous activity and consistently enforce the law. They also hamper attempts to fully account for the effects of texting and driving on accidents in the state.

What is distracted driving in Utah?

State-published reports of distracted driving facts and proposed amendments to existing statues openly cite that driving distractions come in all shapes and forms. Anything that pulls motorists’ attention away from their driving or that prompts them to take their hands off the steering wheel qualifies as a distraction.

This includes passengers, vehicle features such as environmental controls and stereos, items such as food and actions such as applying makeup or shaving.

Cell phone use while driving is particularly dangerous because it occupies drivers’ attention, takes their eyes off the road and takes at least one hand off the wheel, all the same time, significantly reducing both concentration and control of the vehicle.

Distracted Driving Laws in Utah for Handheld Devices

Since 2007, Utah laws against distracted driving have made it illegal to use handheld devices while driving. Talking on the phone while driving is still permitted if motorists have suitable hands-free devices or if they are able to use their devices hands-free in speaker mode.

However, these cell phone laws are classified as secondary laws. This means that law enforcement officers cannot pull a driver over to issue a distracted driving ticket unless he or she is visibly in violation of some other primary law, as well.

In February 2018, a proposed amendment that would have upgraded existing laws on texting and driving to primary laws, enforceable without any other observable violations, was voted down.

Texting and Driving Laws in Utah

Utah laws on texting while driving were initially passed in 2009 and updated in 2014. In their current form, they outlaw any form of text-based messaging while driving, including texts, emails and text-based social media applications.

They also apply distracted driving consequences to nearly all use of cell phones and other mobile electronic devices aside from hands-free verbal conversations and GPS navigation.

Utah Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

Despite the well-known link between various types of cell phone distraction and distracted driving accidents among new or young drivers, Utah currently has no laws aimed specifically at restricting the use of mobile devices by novice motorists. State lawmakers have rejected various proposals that would have implemented laws and consequences specific to young drivers in recent years.

Utah Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

There are no Utah distracted driving fines, laws or other regulations that apply only to commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders.

Distracted Driving Penalties in Utah

Texting and driving fines in Utah are generally limited to a $100 maximum for first offenses. In most cases, a motorist’s first texting and driving ticket is classified as a class C misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses committed within three years of a prior offense will be upgraded to class B misdemeanors.

Auto accidents from texting that result in serious injury to another person will also be considered class B misdemeanors and subject to additional consequences and penalties.

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in Utah

Large portions of the Utah population are in favor of finding and implementing additional ways to prevent texting and driving as recent amendment motions demonstrate. However, Utah law enforcement and state lawmakers have repeatedly voiced their dedication to maintaining drivers’ freedoms to the fullest extent possible.

Therefore, they strongly recommend that motorists and families use simple, self-directed strategies to stop distracted driving and avoid accidents.

  • Plan ahead. Drivers who plan ahead and give themselves enough time to get ready and to travel will not feel pressed to eat, shave, apply makeup or call ahead to inform someone they will be late while driving.
  • Keep vehicles neat. Properly securing passengers, pets and paraphernalia can prevent motorists from being distracted by the needs of other people in the vehicle. It can also prevent them from needing to take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel in attempts to find or catch items.
  • Use safe driving apps. Numerous apps are available that hold calls, texts and other notifications while motorists are driving. Some apps are even equipped to notify parents or other responsible parties if the phone is used while a vehicle is in motion. These apps can help build accountability and good habits in young drivers.
Last updated on Wednesday, October 14 2020.