Traffic moves along state Route 201 during rush hour in Salt Lake City on Jan. 24. One of Utah’s new traffic laws, which Gov. Spencer Cox approved Tuesday, will crack down on speeding. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s law allowing for a test of lane filtering was cause for uproar as it squeezed through the Utah Legislature three years ago.
The law made it possible for motorcyclists to move up to the front of the line at a red light on certain streets across the state. However, aside from some early miscommunications among drivers, a new problem with the law emerged once it went into effect on May 14, 2019.
“As we know, good data drives good decisions, but we don’t have any good data,” said Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, when he first introduced HB10 the first day of the legislative session in January.
Brooks explained that some of the data indicates that the law improved motorcycle safety, which was the original intent behind the 2019 law. But accidents hadn’t been reported properly through most of the law’s window, so it’s not clear how much it really impacted safety.
Data collectors from the Utah Department of Public Safety saw this issue and decided to tweak some of the reporting measures that might help better understand how the law has either helped or hurt the initial cause. The issue there is that restarting an experiment takes time to measure new data, which is something the state couldn’t afford as the 2019 law was written. The law offered a three-year lane filtering window that was set to expire this July.
The only real change HB10 does is that the law now remains in effect until July 1, 2027.
There were discussions to allow motorcyclists to sneak to the front of the line on more roads but the Department of Public Safety and lawmakers agreed it was best to “stay where we’re at” for now, Brooks said. The law states:
- Motorcyclists can move to the front of a traffic light on roads where the speed limit is 45 mph or less and has two or more adjacent traffic lanes in the same direction of travel.
- Motorcyclists can only move to the front when vehicles are stopped.
- Motorcyclists can’t move more than 15 mph when filtering lanes.
Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill into law Tuesday, meaning motorcyclists will still have the ability to use this practice for at least the next five years.
Law cracks down on speeders
That’s not the only driver safety bill that Cox signed Tuesday; the governor also signed SB53, which cracks down on excessive speeders, especially those clocked at triple-digit speeds.
Speeding was a real issue in 2021, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety. Officials said in January that there were over 123,000 speed-related traffic stops throughout the year — more than 4,700 people were caught speeding over 100 mph. That’s a 40% increase over the past three years.
There were at least 81 speed-related traffic deaths in what was the deadliest year on Utah roads since 2002. This wasn’t just an issue on freeways; local police departments reported issues with street racing, as well.
The law enforcement-backed bill does a few things to address both issues.
- A new minimum fine for anyone caught going 100 mph or faster. This, per the bill, is “a fine not less than 150% of the suggested fine in the uniform fine schedule” authorized by the state. The fine total varies based on the speed limit of the road, so anyone caught traveling 100 mph on a road with a 40 mph speed limit would face a steeper fine than anyone caught traveling 100 mph on a road with an 80 mph limit.
- Amends the qualifications of reckless driving to include anyone clocked at 105 mph or faster. Reckless driving is a class B misdemeanor, per Utah code.
- Anyone caught speed racing will face a class A misdemeanor instead of a class B misdemeanor. An illegal vehicle caught speeding racing may also be seized, under the law.
With Cox’s signature, the law change goes into effect May 4 — the data when most new laws go into effect.
Other notable traffic-related bills signed Tuesday
- Utah drivers will soon be able to have slightly darker front windows. Cox also signed SB149 on Tuesday, which amends the visible light transmission rate of a front side window from 43% to 35%. It also allows for a 5% tolerance to account for variables, meaning the owner of a car with a 30% visible light transmission rate wouldn’t get a ticket, either.
- HB139: Creates a deferred prosecution program for someone charged with a traffic infraction. A driver can have a ticket expunged if they don’t have a new traffic infraction within the ensuing 24 months, pay their fine and don’t have any more violations in the ensuing 12 months without dealing with attorneys.
- HB328: Allows Utah drivers with underlying mental health conditions or disabilities to add a “discrete symbol” to their driver license, as well as information about the condition kept with the state’s Driver Licence Division, if they so choose, according to Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City. This information, she explained, can be accessed by law enforcement during a traffic stop, medical emergency or criminal investigation, which she said can help officers understand “unique dynamics of their contact and may also act as an early escalation tool.”
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