House Bill 614 — Handheld ban

Lindsay Atkinson 2020 House bill ratings Leave a Comment

Bill description: HB 614 would ban the use of handheld devices on the road, but grant exceptions to certain individuals.

Rating: -2

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 614 creates a new section in Idaho Code related to distracted driving. Under this bill, it would be a moving violation and an infraction to “operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device.” A mobile electronic device is broadly defined to include any sort of portable device that provides an internet connection or messaging between individuals.

HB 614 would have an escalating system of fines attached to violations. The first offense would have a fine of $75. The second offense in a 3-year period would have a $150 fine attached. Any violations beyond the second offense in a 3-year period would come at a fine of $300 each.

This new provision could have an especially adverse impact on ridesharing platforms such as Uber and Lyft. Drivers who are offering their services through these platforms routinely have to use their phones as they pick up passengers, confirm routes, message passengers and do other tasks required of their business. HB 614 would make it illegal for these drivers to do any of these things. In some cities, such as Boise, these drivers are not allowed to use taxi stalls, which forces them to remain on the road while waiting to pick up a passenger.

(-1)

By creating a state-level regulation regarding distracted driving, this bill preempts local regulations relating to the use of handheld devices. 

Several local governments in Idaho have enacted ordinances in recent years to prohibit drivers from using handheld devices. They include the cities of Boise, 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 their 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.

Thus, the bill would promote uniformity in traffic laws across the state, ensuring that travelers are not caught up in inconsistent laws and inconsistent penalties. HB 614 would also repeal the state’s law on texting while driving, which would now be engulfed in the handheld ban. 

(+1)

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.

This bill specifies that a first offense of distracted driving does not result in violation points, but further offenses can. Thus, an Idahoan’s driver’s license may be affected by violation points from distracted driving.

The bill also explicitly states that “a court may suspend a person’s driver’s license for up to ninety (90) days if the person has three (3) or more convictions for violations of this section within a three (3) year period.”

(-1)

Does it violate the principle of equal protection under the law? Examples include laws which discriminate or differentiate based on age, gender, or religion or which apply laws, regulations, rules, or penalties differently based on such characteristics. Conversely, does it restore or protect the principle of equal protection under the law? 

The way this distracted driving bill is written, the ban on handheld devices would apply to some Idahoans in some scenarios, but not for some people in other scenarios. For instance the ban does not apply to:

  • Paid or volunteer public safety and emergency responders who are on duty (in fact, they can use a device for any purpose while on duty, not just purposes connected to an emergency)
  • Public utility officials responding to an emergency
  • Those reporting an emergency or reporting about the behavior of other drivers
  • Anyone who uses the device for GPS
  • Anyone who uses voice commands or a single touch of a device to make or receive a call
  • Anyone who uses a mobile electronic device in a hands-free mode
  • Government or commercial officials who use their device as a two-way radio
  • Anyone who uses a device for farming or ranching operations

This legislation would create multiple standards for the use of handheld devices — making enforcement problematic — and would actually create some double standards. For instance, while private citizens could not dial a number while driving, police officers could dial a number while operating their cruiser, regardless of who they are calling and regardless of whether it is for personal reasons or reasons related to their job.

(-1)

Analyst’s Note: This bill is similar to another bill introduced this session (Senate Bill 1314). The primary alteration is the addition of an exemption from the handheld ban for devices used for farming and ranching operations.