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Monday, July 1 marks the day new Utah Laws take effect. Accordingly, these new laws cover a range of issues, such as:

1) Teen Texting and Driving

16-17 year old drivers caught talking or texting on their cell phones will be charged with a misdemeanor and a corresponding $25 traffic ticket will be issued to offenders. An exception to this law is if the teenager used the phone to contact parents or authorities in an emergency situation. This traffic offense will not be recorded as points on their license.

Here are some statistics that hopefully will be reduced as this law takes effect:

  • For drivers 15-19 years old involved in fatal crashes, 21 percent of the drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones (NHTSA).
  • 56% of teenagers admitted they talk on their cell phones while driving, while 13% voluntarily admit to texting while driving.
  • Deaths due to distracted driving increased by 28% from 2005-2008.

The recent sentencing of a pickup truck driver for killing a Vernal High School student in a texting and driving accident has led to teenagers from Uintah Basin being encouraged to swear off distracted driving behaviors.

According to, representatives from the TriCounty Health Department, two local radio stations, and a number of businesses have been taking an old Volkswagen bus to football games, county fairs and other venues for kids to sign their names on the vehicle as a symbol of their commitment to safe driving. The teenagers sign as a pledge to avoid driving misbehavior that includes texting and driving, speeding, driving under the influence, not riding with anyone (who is) under the influence, and wearing seat belts. Hopefully the death of Thomas Clark has instilled in the minds of these drivers the dangers of distracted driving.

2) Smoking inside the Vehicle

This is a law that prohibits smoking inside the car when there is a child less than 16 years of age inside. Authorities cannot pull over the car for the smoking offense, but will impose the law if the driver of the car committed a traffic infraction and is pulled over,  as in the case of a seat belt violation or running the red light. A $45 fine will be imposed for this offense.

Convertibles (as long as the top is down) and open-air vehicles are exempted from this law.

This initiative of the government will reduce the exposure of children to second-hand smoke. Exposure to second-hand smoke can cause asthma in children who have not previously exhibited symptoms according to the EPA. Infants and children younger than six who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke are at increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Moreover, children who regularly breathe second-hand smoke are at increased risk for middle ear infections.

3) Speed Limit

The third law created more stretches of freeway where speed limit is set at 80 mph. The 80 mph speed zones will expand to outlying stretches of Interstates 15, 80 and 84 starting August this year.

4) Wildfire Related Restriction

Another law allows state foresters to restrict target shooting, smoking and other activities on lands with a high-risk of wildfire. The local sheriff must agree to the restrictions. Utah is prone to wildfires and taking measures to minimize the probability of wildfires can help save properties and lives, which lead to monetary savings as well.

The fire near Saratoga Springs that broke out last year is said to have cost more than two million dollars to fight, not to mention the thousands of people forced to evacuate their homes.

Just recently the nation mourned for the 19 brave fire fighters who lost their lives for the service of the country. They were fighting the fire at Yarnel Hill. According to the report, there were 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were elite fire fighters sent in from around the country to battle the fiercest wildfires. Only one fire fighter survived the incident because he was moving the unit’s truck at the time of the tragedy. The lightning-sparked Yarnell Hill Fire has destroyed about 50 homes.
Wildfires have caused untold damage and danger to communities, and with Utah experiencing a very high summer temperature, this measure is quite timely.

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