New traffic rules OK'd in Utah

| 3/28/2007

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a bill into law that includes several provisions intended to make the state's roadways safer. A provision to boost vehicles speeds, however, was left out.

The new law, previously SB17, creates a new category of tickets for "careless" driving. 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 would be considered to be driving carelessly.

The bill lists examples of distracting activities while driving. They include using cell phones, eating or drinking.

To be ticketed for careless driving, motorists would have to be stopped for another traffic offense.

The bill went through several revisions as it traveled through the statehouse. One provision that was included in the original bill called for allowing speed limits to be increased by 5 mph on state highways and interstates for all vehicles. The provision was stripped from the bill once it advanced to the House.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, 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.

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

Other parts of the bill that were approved include a provision 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 change to state law requires vehicles traveling in the left lane to move right, when practical, when they are about to be overtaken by another vehicle. It also requires 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 requires that drivers preparing to turn right or left must signal their intentions for at least two seconds. Until now, state law required a three-second heads up for other drivers.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor