Distracted driving bill would ban handheld cellphone use

Distracted driving bill would ban handheld cellphone use

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State of the State Address, 2020

Gov. Brad Little is seen on a television screen during the State of the State Address Jan. 6 at the state Capitol building in downtown Boise.

BOISE — Drivers could no longer use their cellphones while driving under a bill intended to cut down on distracted driving crashes.

The bill was introduced unanimously Thursday by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Jeff Neumeyer of United Heritage Insurance, which proposed the bill, said handheld devices are the leading cause of distracted driving crashes.

“Distracted driving has become a serious life, health and safety problem across the country and here in Idaho,” Neumeyer said.

The bill would ban use of any mobile electronic device (cellphones, laptops, tablets, etc.) while driving. Drivers would also not be allowed to wear headphones or watch videos. Those who violate the law would receive an infraction and a fine of $75.

Several exceptions would be included to allow for hands-free calling, GPS navigation and emergency calls to 911. It’s “narrowly tailored to minimize impact on individual freedom,” Neumeyer said.

A poll showed 80% of Idahoans support a distract driving law, and 20 other states have passed a similar law, he said.

Many cities and counties have passed local distracted driving bans and some lawmakers are looking to create a statewide law to provide a uniform definition for law enforcement.

Members of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association attended Thursday’s meeting. The group supports some form of a state distracted driving law.

Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said drivers need to get off their phones but how far a new law should go is unclear.

“I don’t want to see us outlaw things that all of us do each and every day and make it harder on law enforcement to enforce,” he said.

A House committee is considering a similar bill that includes things like eating and grooming under the definition of distracted driving.

Driving while specifically texting is currently punishable with an infraction in Idaho, but state law does not extend to other forms of distracted driving. Drivers can be pulled for inattentive driving, but they would face a misdemeanor, which officers are often reluctant to give for smaller offenses, Kingsbury said.

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