Capitol Daily Memo: is cell-phone ban for minors a good idea?


Senator Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, believes talking on a cell phone is a dangerous activity for minors. If passed into law, Romero’s SB 128 would make it a driving infraction for a minor under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while driving a vehicle. SB 128 was voted out of committee 3-2 and will be heard by the full Senate.

Senator Stuart Adams, R-Davis, expressed concern with the ability of the state to regulate inappropriate behavior. “It’s hard to regulate good behavior with a law, I just don’t know how microscopic we should be,” Adams said. “My struggle with this is, eating fast food in a car is more distracting than a cell phone – we shouldn’t do that, or put on makeup, or whatever.” 

Romero feels the law would save lives. “We have plenty of laws that relate to young drivers that are in place for public safety reasons,” Romero told Sutherland’s Capitol Daily. “You can’t have multiple friends in the car; you can’t drive at night; you have to have driving experience with your parent or legal guardian. I guess it could have been said for each one of those when they were introduced they were part of the nanny state. I would suggest they’re good public safety reasons and they result in saving people’s lives.”

Minors charged with this infraction would be assessed a maximum $50 fee. No points or record of the infraction would be issued to the driver. Under the new law, drivers would be exempted from the statute if they were using the cell phone to talk to a parent or guardian, calling because of a medical emergency, or asking for help during a safety emergency or criminal event.

Romero shared data with the committee showing that driver distraction was a cause of 26.8 percent of all crashes in Utah in 2010. Cell phone use accounted for 15.5 percent of the known causes of driver distraction. Out of the nearly 50,000 total crashes in 2010, cell phones were known to be involved in 1.4 percent of the incidents.

Romero also argued that making the cell phone ban law would raise awareness for parents and minors, and it would give parents the opportunity to tell their children, “It’s the law, don’t do it.”

As with many legislative acts, this bill raises the question: What is the right balance between good policy and nanny-state overreach? What do you think: Should the state ban minors from talking on a cell phone while driving?