New rules of the road OK'd in Utah, minus effort to speed up all traffic

| 3/1/2007

The Utah Legislature has approved a bill that no longer includes a provision to allow drivers to travel faster. It does include several other highway-safety related provisions.

A House-Senate conference committee reached agreement on the bill, clearing the way for it to head to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to be signed into law.

As introduced in the Senate the bill allowed speed limits to be increased by 5 mph on state highways and interstates for all vehicles. The provision was stripped from the bill - SB17 - in the House.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, the bill sponsor, sought to allow truckers and others traveling on rural interstates and other limited access routes would be cleared to drive 80 miles per hour - up from the current 75 mph limit. The speed limit along urban interstates and other roads would have increased from 65 mph to 70 mph.

"We're trying to increase or improve the flow of traffic," Jenkins recently told the Deseret Morning News. He cited statistics that show in some cases, higher speed limits improve traffic flow and result in fewer wrecks.

Opponents of higher speeds said that regardless of any statistics, perception by many people is that increasing speeds would actually result in more wrecks.

The speed limit provision wasn't the only language in the bill that unsettled some people at the Capitol. House lawmakers removed another provision to create a new category of tickets for "careless" driving.

However, the Senate wanted the careless driving provision included. As a result, the conference committee reached agreement to reinsert the provision. That provision calls for any person found guilty of two or more moving violations - or one moving violation while being distracted by one or more activities not related to the operation of the vehicle - to be considered to have been driving carelessly.

The bill lists five examples of distracting activities while driving. They include using cell phones, eating or drinking. To be ticketed for careless driving, motorists would first have to be stopped for another traffic offense.

Other parts of the bill include a provision that is intended to combat aggressive driving on multi-lane highways by keeping most motorists out of the far left-hand lane. Large trucks already are restricted to the right lanes of highways with at least three lanes in the same direction.

The proposed change to state law would require vehicles traveling in the left lane to move right, when practical, when they are about to be overtaken by another vehicle.

The bill also would require that people traveling on highways adopt a two-second rule.

Jenkins wrote in the bill that drivers must "follow at a distance so that at least two seconds elapse before reaching the location of the vehicle directly in front of the operator's vehicle."

It also would require that drivers preparing to turn right or left must signal their intentions for at least two seconds. Existing law requires a three-second heads up for other drivers.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor