About a year ago, I may or may not have been texting and driving on I-15 and may or may not have been pulled over and issued a ticket. Then, I called into the court and found out I had been charged with a Class B misdemeanor. This is the same charge for drug possession and DUIs. I was irate. So, instead of studying for my state exam, I first-handedly learned cell phone and driving law. Utah takes this seriously and here’s what you need to know:
If you are pulled over for using your cell phone and charged without any other moving violation or convictions relating to cell phones, you should be fined no more than $100 and charged with a Class C Misdemeanor. If you have a higher charge, challenge it in court. The police follow their guidelines and coding systems and those are occasionally wrong, resulting in excess charging for crimes.
Can I make a call? Under the law, you cannot dial a number while driving but you can be on a call while driving.
I need my GPS. Even though we know in this part of the country that GPS is not always best, if you do need it, you can look at it while driving. You cannot search for a location and start navigation while driving.
My mom just texted. If it’s a medical emergency, you may respond. Otherwise, don’t. She wants to see you at home, not at jail or the hospital.
There’s an accident, a crime happening, or I need to report this safety hazard. Car accidents, suspicious activities, or hazards like rocks on the road or spills, can be called in while driving. However, you may want to pull over if you have time based on the increased safety required while driving through the situation.
What can’t I do with my phone or laptop while driving? Well, obviously don’t enter data into a document via phone or laptop, send email, or record video. Remember to avoid text messaging, instant messaging, or dialing a phone number.
What happens if I’m pulled over? First, respect the police officer. Remember, 99.9% of the time with 99.9% of the police force, the officer is trying to their job professionally, even if you disagree with them. Do not act reckless or unpredictably when speaking or interacting with the officer. Second, when they ask you why you were pulled over or what you were doing, do not admit to anything. Officers can use whatever you say against you. Officers are not required to tell you the truth, though you are not allowed to lie to an officer. Wait until after interacting with the officer to express your anger about the ticket.
What about my ticket? Follow the officer’s instructions and the ticket’s instructions. Call the Justice Court listed on the ticket to confirm your court date. Contest the ticket to see if you can get a reduced charge or plea in abeyance. Consider hiring an attorney to negotiate a deal between you and the government.
Does this apply to ATVs and UTVs? If you are driving a street legal ATV/UTV on a public road and irresponsibly using your phone, you could be charged with this crime.
With my ticket, I pled to a plea in abeyance, paid a $125 fine, and the charge was taken off my record after not having any other driving violations for a year. While this was a frustrating learning experience, I now think twice before looking at my phone while driving. Be smarter than me: comply with Utah’s driving laws.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435.610.1431.
Published in the 7/12 Wayne & Garfield County Insider.