House Bill 346 — Distracted driving

House Bill 346 — Distracted driving

by
Lindsay Atkinson
January 22, 2020
Lindsay Atkinson
January 22, 2020

Bill description: HB 346 would replace Idaho’s texting-while-driving law with a distracted driving law, create a series of escalating fines for violations, and also provide a system of legal uniformity across the state.

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Does it directly or indirectly create or increase penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for non- violent crimes? Conversely, does it eliminate or decrease penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for non-violent crimes? 

HB 346 would remove the State of Idaho’s current law on texting while driving. This law has largely gone unenforced ever since it was first established by the Legislature in 2012. Enforcement has been scarce because it is difficult for law enforcement to establish whether a driver’s contact with a phone was specifically for texting or for some other purpose.

The current penalty for violating the texting-while-driving statute is an infraction, which carries a fine of $81.50. This includes a fixed penalty of $25 and court costs and law enforcement fees totaling $56.50. This bill eliminates the infraction fee associated specifically with texting-while-driving.

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However, the bill replaces the prohibition against texting-while-driving with one on distracted driving. Under this bill, it would be an infraction to operate “a moving motor vehicle in a manner as to endanger or that is likely to endanger any person or property.”

This bill actually imposes a lower fine associated with the first infraction of distracted driving than the current fine for texting-while-driving. As established in the bill, a first offense would come with a fee of $50, which is less than the current fine for texting-while-driving. 

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Infractions after the first one would carry a higher fee than they have under the current texting-while-driving law. For instance, a second offense would carry a fine of $100, if committed within two years of the first offense. A third offense would carry an even heftier fine of $300. 

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Plus, this bill imposes an additional fine of $25 per violation of distracted driving if the distraction was caused by using a handheld device. 

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HB 346 would promote uniformity in traffic laws across the state, thus ensuring that travelers are not caught up in inconsistent laws and inconsistent penalties.

Currently, several local governments in Idaho have enacted ordinances in recent years to prohibit drivers from using handheld devices. These municipalities include the cities of Ketchum, Hailey, Pocatello, Meridian, and Idaho Falls, as well as Blaine County.

Each of these localities has passed differing ordinances, thus creating inconsistency across the state in what drivers can and cannot do while operating a vehicle. For instance, a driver can use a handheld device while idling at a stoplight in some cities, but not in others. 

Additionally, different ordinances in different municipalities impose different fees for violations. And anyone who is pulled over multiple times in cities like Pocatello or Idaho Falls could be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced with up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. HB 346 would establish uniform penalties.

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Additionally, this bill specifically says that distracted driving “shall be considered a lesser offense than inattentive driving ... and shall be applicable in those circumstances where the careless or erratic driving has been brief or temporary.” By specifically indicating that law enforcement can use the distracted driving offense for brief or temporary instances of erratic driving, Idahoans pulled over under those circumstances may avoid the heftier charge of inattentive driving. 

Currently, inattentive driving carries the charge of a misdemeanor, with up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300. And inattentive driving is, in itself, a lesser offense than reckless driving.

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Does it increase barriers to entry into the market? Examples include occupational licensure, the minimum wage, and restrictions on home businesses. Conversely, does it remove barriers to entry into the market? 

Under Idaho’s laws regulating motor vehicles, certain convictions and infractions involving motor vehicles can result in the state putting a violation point on a motorist’s record. The Idaho Transportation Department can use that system to track a driver’s record of small offenses and determine that person’s  fitness to hold a driver’s license. If an Idahoan’s driving record has 12 or more violation points within a one year period, then ITD can suspend or revoke that motorist’s  driver’s license.

Under Idaho’s current texting-while-driving law, offenses “shall not result in violation point counts.” However, this bill specifies that a third distracted driving offense within a two year period “shall result in three (3) violation points.” Thus, an Idahoan’s driver’s license may be affected by distracted driving.

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