New Distracted Driving Bill Would Trump Idaho City, County Ordinances

Jan 8, 2020

Idaho’s texting while driving law could soon be expanded to include all handheld cell phone use, as well as a lot of other distractions, too.

Not only would using a handheld cell phone while driving get you a roughly $90 ticket under this proposal from Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian), but police could also cite you for eating or putting on makeup in the car if you’re driving erratically.

For cities that don’t have their own ordinances, Idaho law only allows police to hand out a ticket if they can prove a person was texting. It doesn’t apply to any other phone applications or if a person is calling someone else.

Twenty one states and Washington, D.C. have implemented full handheld cell phone bans, while nearly all states have barred drivers from texting.

Some backers of similar proposals say ordinances implemented across the state create a hodgepodge of regulations that vary once someone crosses over city or county lines.

“We’ve got to do something about the inconsistency of ordinances between city – especially Boise and Meridian. We don’t even know where the boundaries of Meridian are,” said Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise).

Palmer’s bill would be similar to Meridian’s cell phone ban that just started being enforced this month in that it would also apply even if a person is stopped at a stop sign or stop light.

Rep. Chad Christensen (R-Ammon), who brought a bill last year to outlaw any kind of distracted driving ordinances, said in a Facebook post Tuesday that he intended to bring a similar bill that could also add points against a person’s driving record if they’re repeatedly cited.

Palmer says others are also in the works and that he’ll wait to see these proposals before scheduling his for a hearing.

“What I want is the best bill that we can come up with that works the best to keep people safe.”

Idaho cities that have passed such ordinances in recent years include Meridian, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Hailey and Ketchum.

“We are grateful for the possibility of state legislation to address distracted driving throughout Idaho,” said Idaho Falls City Councilman Jim Freeman, who pushed for his city’s ordinance.

“At the same time, we hope people recognize the tremendous value of local jurisdictional efforts to be proactive and responsive towards public safety issues like this and not curtail their ability to do so in the future,” Freeman said.

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