Utah Distracted Driving

A Guide to Utah's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving

There are roughly 55,000 car accidents every year in Utah. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

The state of Utah defines distracted driving as “anything that takes the driver’s attention off the road.” This includes a wide range of actions such as:

  • Sending or receiving text messages
  • Reading
  • Eating or drinking
  • Watching a video
  • Talking to passengers
  • Attending to children or pets
  • Adjusting the radio or temperature controls

Though most distractions are totally legal, they still present a hazard and should be minimized or avoided whenever possible. In Utah, state law is focused mainly on the risk of texting while driving, leaving other distractions unchecked.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Utah

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Utah:

  • Distracted driving is the fifth most common cause of all crash-related fatalities in Utah.
  • In this state, an average of 5,187 accidents a year can be attributed to distracted driving.
  • That is 9.4% of all accidents in this state.
  • Every year in Utah, an average of 2,006 people are injured, and 20 are killed, due to distracted driving accidents.
  • 39.9% of all distracted driving accidents in the state are caused by drivers under the age of 25.
  • Most distracted driving accidents in this state occur between the hours of 4pm and 6pm.

Number of distracted driving accidents recorded in Utah by year

Number of distracted driving accidents recorded in Utah by year

The numbers in this chart are on the low side. Many more accidents may have been caused by distracted driving, but without an admission by the driver, exact numbers are hard to come by.

Does Utah Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

But, when it comes to distracted driving laws, Utah is a bit late to the game. In 2017, Utah became the 47th state to ban texting while driving.

Currently, Utah’s distracted driving laws prohibit:

  • Reading, writing, or sending text messages
  • Typing on electronic keyboards, even entering a phone number prior to a hands-free call.
  • Accessing the Internet by use of hands
  • Drivers under the age of 18 from using wireless communications devices.
  • Utah has a “careless driving” law, which means you will face additional charges if you are using a handheld cell phone or are engaging in other distracting behaviors at the time you commit a moving violation.  This is sort of a soft ban on handheld cell phones.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Utah?

Yes.

The following exceptions to Utah’s distracted driving law apply:

  • Drivers under 18 may use their cell phones to report:
    • a medical emergency
    • criminal activity
    • the need for assistance relating to a safety hazard
  • Texting is permitted when done using voice-to-text hands-free technology.
  • The use of GPS or other navigation systems is permitted.
  • Hands may be used to activate or deactivate a hands-free system.
  • The state’s distracted driving laws do not apply to emergency services personnel or law enforcement officers who are using their phones while working and within the scope of their employment.

Utah Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                              X
Is handheld device use permitted?               X *
Any special restriction for young drivers?               X                   
Is headphone/headset use permitted?               X                    

* however, you can face additional fines if using a handheld device at the time of a moving violation.

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Utah?

Yes. And no

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard.

So, what happens if a police officer in Utah sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that specifically says you can't eat while driving in this state.

But if you lose control of your vehicle and commit a moving violation while eating that cheeseburger, the state’s careless-driving prohibition allows the officer to write you an additional citation for careless or distracted driving. This can increase your penalties for the moving violation significantly.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Utah uses both primary and secondary enforcement.

The state’s anti-texting laws are applied via primary enforcement. This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while texting, a police officer who sees you doing so can pull your over and write up a citation for violating the state’s distracted driving laws. 

The state’s “careless driving” prohibition allows for secondary enforcement of distractions. This means if you're driving erratically or commit a moving violation while distracted, you can be pulled over for that infraction and given additional penalties for careless or distracted driving.

What's the Penalty for Distracted Driving in Utah?

In Utah, the penalty for a violation of the distracted driving law is as follows:

  • For most first offenses: This is a class C misdemeanor and comes with a maximum fine of $100.
  • For a second or subsequent offense within 3 years: This is a class B misdemeanor and you can be fined up to $750 and face up to 3 months in jail.
  • For an offense in which another person suffers a serious injury: This is a class B misdemeanor and you can be fined up to $750 and face up to 3 months in jail.
  • For an offense in which a person is killedYou could face vehicular manslaughter, a felony, and face fines of up to $10,000 as well as up to 15 years in prison.

Keep in mind that the amount you'll be expected to pay is often higher than the fine, since court costs and fees are typically added in. Plus, there's the added cost of insurance to think about too.

Utah compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Currently, every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But once 2021 rolls around and Arizona's law comes into effect, Montana will be the only state left.

Does a Distracted Driving Citation in Utah Increase Insurance Rates?

Most likely.

In Utah, there's a good chance that your car insurance company will know about your distracted driving citation, especially if it was in conjunction with a moving violation. If this happens, you'll most likely see a rate increase.

The amount of your rate hike depends on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history. In Utah, distracted driving citations cause rates to go up an average of nearly $260 a year. So you really have to ask yourself whether that text message is worth it.

Plus, if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to the lower rates it gives you. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip!

Next door in Nevada, the use of handheld cell phones is illegal. Does this mean if you're holding your phone to your ear as you drive over the border into Nevada you need to end your call immediately? It sure does if you want to avoid a potential $50 fine.

But Idaho and Wyoming permit drivers under 18 to use cell phones while driving. Does this mean that your 17-year-old child can legally talk on the phone while driving through these states? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they should. Just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wise.

What's Utah Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Utah’s careless driving law comes close to making this a hands-free state; however, the use of handheld phones is still accepted and widespread. Attempts by lawmakers such as State Rep. Carol Spackman Moss to create a hands-free law have, to date, failed.

Meanwhile, the state, through the Zero Fatalities initiative and other campaigns, is using several forms of media, including YouTube videos, to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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https://site.utah.gov/dps-highwaysafe/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2017/10/Section6Distraction2016.pdf

https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title41/Chapter6A/41-6a-S1716.html

https://zerofatalitiesut.com/distracted-driving/