LOCAL NEWS

New teen drivers still can’t have friends in car after Utah bill fails

Feb 29, 2024, 5:17 PM

A proposed bill, HB351, would allow teen drivers to have a single friend in the car, which Utah's s...

A proposed bill, HB351, would allow teen drivers to have a single friend in the car, which Utah's safety campaign doubles the risk of a crash. (Eddie Collins, KSL TV)

(Eddie Collins, KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Senate Democrats scored a rare legislative victory this week when they defeated a bill loosening the law for new young drivers.

Currently, Utah law prohibits 16- and 17-year-old drivers from having any friends in the vehicle during the six months after receiving a driver’s license.

Utah law prohibiting new drivers from having friends in car could soon change

HB351, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, would have changed that, allowing them to drive with one friend.

But in a 2-2 party-line vote, the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee refused to advance the bill to the full Senate, after it had previously passed the House of Representatives.

Sen. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, and Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, cast the deciding votes against the bill. Two Republicans, Sen. Heidi Balderree, R-Saratoga Springs, and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, voted in favor of it.

Three other Republican lawmakers on the committee were absent for the vote, which could have changed the outcome. Republicans hold a supermajority in both the Utah House and Senate.

Birkeland previously told KSL TV she got the idea for the bill after her daughter was pulled over and cited for having friends in the vehicle soon after receiving her license.

“It’s very common – especially in rural communities when your kid’s going to drive a half hour or hour into a city to carpool – to have them ride together,” Birkeland said earlier this month. “I know, as a mom, I don’t want my 16-year-old driving at night by herself.”

Birkland echoed those points during the Senate committee hearing Tuesday. But Riebe pushed back.

“This seems irresponsible to send our kids out on the highway with people in their car,” Riebe said. “There’s science that shows that this is not good for kids to be distracted.”

Utah’s Zero Fatalities campaign warns the risk of a crash doubles with even just one friend in the car.

However, Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich previously noted, Birkeland’s proposal still fell within national standards for best practices by allowing new drivers to have “no more than one” friend in the vehicle.

Birkeland did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her future plans on this issue.

KSL 5 TV Live

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New teen drivers still can’t have friends in car after Utah bill fails