The Boise Police Department (BPD) wants its police officers to be as safe as possible and that’s why the agency announced Wednesday that it is banning officers from using mobile electronic devices to send text messages, e-mails, or access the Internet while behind the wheel. Officers will still be allowed to used cell phones and other devices for navigational purposes. BPD Chief Mike Masterson said that ban is simply an effort to maintain a high standard of safety on the road. Masterson also called on the Idaho Legislature to ban texting-while-driving, something it failed to do in its 2010 session.
The announcement from Masterson came as a call for officers to be attentive while on Idaho’s roadways. "Officers need to use a variety of communication tools that are critical to personal and public safety, but texting while driving is not one of them,” said Masterson, who added that his officers would now be examples of safe driving. "We, as police officers, urge people not to text while driving. There’s growing evidence that texting takes a drivers eyes off the road for too long, and sadly, already has been a deadly distraction on our roads. I believe we have to follow the same safety advice we give to the people we serve – do not text and drive.”
BPD spokesperson Lynn Hightower told IdahoReporter.com that the ban by the department isn't the result of any specific or recent accidents by officers caused by texting behind the wheel. "The reason for this policy, which has been under discussion in the department for several weeks, is simply the safety factor. The Chief considers this a preemptive move," Hightower wrote in an e-mail. Officers will still be allowed to talk on their phones while behind the wheel, which Hightower said is necessary to allow them to gather more information on potentially dangerous situations while en route. Use of laptops installed in police cruisers will also be exempt from the ban because Hightower said their use is an essential duty for officers.
At the press conference on the announcement, Masterson also called on the Idaho Legislature to make texting-while-driving a crime, something that it narrowly failed to do in early 2010. "Elected officials do need to create a law. When families are sitting at the dinner table, parents can tell their kids, it's against the law, you shouldn't do it," Masterson told reporters. "The purpose of policy and law is to create the preferred state, to say this is what's considered safe operation of a vehicle on the roads of Boise and of Idaho. Let us deal with the 1-2 percent who chose not to follow the laws. Policies and laws send clear messages as to what the expectations are and what's safe practice for people using Idaho roads."
The Legislature defeated two separate texting bans during its 2010 session. The first was a measure crafted by Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, which featured steep penalties for offenders, including the charge of misdemeanor and the fines and jail time that could have gone along with the charge. Lawmakers in the House amended and effectively killed the Senate version, but Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, introduced a newer version that allowed for those caught texting-while-driving to be charged with infractions, which would have been similar to other traffic violations, like speeding or running a stop sign. In the end, however, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, killed the bill saying that it was unenforceable and that it created two classes of citizens because it exempted safety officials, like police officers, from the ban.
The issue won't go away, however. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, is gearing up to pitch another texting ban bill in 2011, a measure which will create a separate offense of "negligent driving" for those doing anything behind the wheel that might be unsafe, including texting, eating, or applying makeup.