During the 2010 legislative session, lawmakers in the Idaho House and Senate couldn't come to an agreement on how to prevent drivers from using their cell phones to text while driving. The bill to prevent the practice died through a procedural maneuver on the last day of the session, but one lawmaker, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, says the issue will be back during the 2011 legislative session. Hagedorn told IdahoReporter.com Thursday that he is working with local law enforcement agencies to craft a new texting ban.
State Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, killed the final version of the texting ban, which had already received the blessing of the Idaho Senate, on the grounds that it would have been impossible for officers to enforce the ban without subpoenaing a driver's phone records into court. Hagedorn himself argued against the ban, saying that officers would have to prove drivers were texting and not dialing the phone, an all but impossible feat.
Hagedorn's proposal for the 2011 session, which he says is still in the works, would create an entirely new category of offenses for those who do a number of things that lead to distracted and unsafe driving, including texting. State law already provides for prosecution of those cited for inattentive or reckless driving, but Hagedorn's bill would create "negligent driving," which could be used against those who text, eat, read, or practice other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
There would be one catch for officers trying to enforce the law if it's passed next year: those using cell phones or eating behind the wheel would also need to exhibit unsafe driving, such as speeding or weaving. When asked about potential scenarios that would not warrant a ticket under his plan, Hagedorn explained that a law enforcement official could observe someone eating behind the wheel, but would be unable to ticket that person unless he or she was driving unsafely.
The penalty for Hagedorn's bill would be a citation, which would mean a fine and court costs for offenders. The plan would also leave the door open for officers to ratchet up the charge to inattentive driving if they feel a driver's behavior is particularly dangerous. If charged with that offense, potential offenders would face a misdemeanor charge, which would likely mean a fine, but jail time could also be possible if convicted.
Hagedorn stressed that the bill he's working on is not yet complete. "I have talked with some other lawmakers, the Meridian Police Department, Idaho State Police, and Fraternal Order of Police and am trying to make sure that everyone I talk to is comfortable with the final product," said Hagedorn.