After several years of trying to pass an anti-texting bill, the Idaho Legislature is one step closer to doing so. But it is a big step, centering on the right of first responders to text.
Senate Bill 1274 was heard in the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday and it passed unanimously. It will now head to the House floor, with amendments. The bill had already zipped through a Senate committee and a Senate floor vote with ease.
Within the bill in its current form is an exemption for law enforcement and emergency personnel allowing them to text. The House committee believes that should be taken out, but agreed with the rest of the bill.
The chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, in addressing the House committee, called the bill simple. “It defines texting, and it creates an infraction for texting while driving. It’s intentionally simple so that it’s easily understood by the public and by law enforcement,” he said.
Representatives from AAA Idaho, Idaho State Police, Idaho Pedestrian and Bicycle Alliance and several high school students from varying student groups all gave testimony in support of the bill. But, the most emotional testimony came the Sauer family and the loss of Taylor Sauer.
In January of 2012, Taylor Sauer was on her way back home to Idaho from Utah State University, where she was attending college. Taylor was texting and using Facebook on her phone, even posting a message to Facebook about how “dangerous” it was to be using Facebook while driving. She crashed into the back of a slow-moving semi-truck as a result and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Shauna Sauer, Taylor’s mother, spoke in support of the bill. “As a family we strongly feel that there needs to be a law that specifically states that texting and driving is illegal. This will get more teenagers’ attention than the current coverage of the inattentive driving law. Teenagers need it spelled out. They honestly don’t feel that texting is inattentive since they are so proficient at it.”
Even with Mrs. Sauer’s emotional testimony, not everyone testified in favor of the legislation.
Michelle Audette, representing ABATE of southern Idaho, which is a non-profit motorcycle rights group, says that much like other bills in the past, trying to define texting doesn’t work. “There are other distractions that are utilized with that cell phone that has nothing to do with written communications. So basically, what it’s trying to do is narrow down inattentiveness, which once again we’ll point out … inattentiveness is already on the books.”
Audette focused much of her time on the law that Idaho already has regarding inattentive driving. “It’s against the law currently for people to text and utilize their cell phone. I want to point out, too, that hands-free devices are often seen as the solution to being distracted while driving. However, hands-free devices have not eliminated the cognitive distraction. Taking your mind off the road, period, is inattentive.”