The Idaho Senate voted Wednesday to ban texting while driving. Getting caught typing behind the wheel could lead to a fine of up to $300 or jail sentence of up to 90 days.
“What this bill would do is it would place texting while driving under the inattentive driving statute,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell. There are 19 other states with texting bans, though McGee helped kill a similar ban from Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, last year. “I’ve done a 180 on this,” McGee said. He said his study on the issue changed his mind. He quoted a University of Utah study saying that texting while driving quadruples your chances of getting in an accident.
McGee said it could be difficult for police to issue a misdemeanor for texting behind the wheel. “Are there challenges to enforceability to this bill? You bet.” He said police could potentially get a court order to check drivers’ cell phone records to see if they were texting while driving when a collision occurred. He said the goal of the legislation is to send a message to Idahoans. “It will remind the citizens of Idaho, especially our younger drivers, that this is illegal … Young people have come to me and asked me to make this a law.” He also said that state police, sheriffs, and prosecuting attorneys also support the ban, as do cell phone companies including AT&T and Verizon. “There’s been a great deal of input from those experts on the legislation,” McGee said.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, clarified on the Senate floor that receiving a text message wouldn’t be illegal. Talking on a cell phone while driving is also legal in Idaho. McGee said drivers stopped at a stop light, stop sign, or who pull off to the side of the road could also send text messages, e-mails, or tweets.
“Those who know me best don’t worry about me texting a whole lot,” said Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo. He said it would be a drawn out process to prove an inattentive driver is texting.
The final vote in the Senate was 29-5. Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, voted against the texting ban. He said people who cause collisions due to inattentive driving would already face fines under current law and that the ban would only penalize people who safely use their phone while driving. He said that while many people are against texting while driving, they still engage in the unsafe activity.
The proposed texting ban now heads to the House. Read IdahoReporter.com‘s coverage of the texting while driving ban here, here, and here. The text of the texting while driving ban is available here.