On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee passed legislation, Senate Bill 1274, that would make it illegal to text message while driving.
The bill defines what its sponsor characterizes as a simple definition of texting, one that is easy for law enforcement to apply. Texting is defined as, “Engaging in the review of, or manual preparation and transmission of, written communications via handheld wireless devices.”
The committee room was packed with those who had an opinion, pro or con, on the bill. However, the majority wishing to testify favored the bill.
Sen. James Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the committee and sponsor of the legislation, introduced the bill, saying, “There have been several attempts to pass a texting bill in our Legislature over the past three sessions. They have all failed. I brought forth a bill that is very simple and straightforward.”
Capt. Ryan Zimmerman, representing the Idaho State Police, testified in favor of the bill and attempted to put to rest the idea that a texting law would not be enforceable. Said Zimmerman, “It is very cleanly written (the new law) and easy to understand, and easy for use to enforce it.”
Another big supporter of the legislation was Verizon Wireless, represented by lobbyist Roy Eiguren. Eiguren said Verizon Wireless has supported legislation against texting while driving in all 50 states. “We strongly support this legislation. We think it’s some of the best crafted in all 50 states and would urge your support of it.”
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, raised a number of questions about just how effective the law would be and the enforcement of it. “One of my concerns is with those additional stops. I could make a pretty good case we don’t have enough officers right now, so if the ones we have are making more and more of these stops and some of those will get to the courts … so how do we resolve that? ...
“On the court side,” said Corder, “I’d be curious how we’re going to track those additional court stops too, because we struggle with trying to discern a result to the actions we take and at some point, a year down the road, we’re going to want to look back and say ‘what did happen in our court system.’ Will we be able to tell that?”
While most of the testimony was for the bill, there was some against it. The executive director for the Idaho ACLU, Monica Hopkins, was one of those. She said that the bill would be ineffective and could potentially lead to stops that aren’t warranted. “It is ineffective, opens the door to discretionary stops, invites widespread violations and creates unintended consequences.”
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, supported the legislation but wanted it amended. Bair said that he would like the exemption that law enforcement and emergency personnel be removed. He did receive a second on his motion, but no other support, so his proposed amendment died. Under the proposed law, those personnel in law enforcement, firefighters or emergency medical vehicles are exempt from it for actions “in the course and scope of their duties.” In addition, the bill does not prohibit using voice-operated or hands-free devices while driving.
“This has been a long road for me,” said Bair. “I have opposed every single bill that has come along as far as texting is concerned because I have had concerns about ambiguity of language and unenforceability. I think this bill does address those issues … I want to strike the language that gives the exemption to emergency vehicles and police officers. In my mind, I just cannot see an instance where they couldn’t use their radio instead, or in an emergency situation, they’re no better drivers than we are, and I’d like to strike that language.”