The Idaho Senate Transportation Committee wants to make changes to the House of Representatives’ version of a ban on texting while driving. The House ban includes lower fees for texting behind the wheel than the Senate plan, which would make texting a misdemeanor. Proposed amendments would add in stiffer penalties when a texting driver injures someone else or causes property damage.
“This amendment’s probably a good example of splitting the baby,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who sponsored the original Senate texting ban and the changes to the House ban. “It’s not strictly an infraction … and it’s not strictly a misdemeanor.” In the latest Senate plan, offenders of the texting ban that cause damage or injury would face a misdemeanor with penalties up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. If there’s no property damage, offenders would face the $50 fine created in the House plan. Subsequent offenses would get a $100 fine.
McGee said he thinks the House version hasn’t been as thoroughly reviewed as the plan he sponsored that passed the Senate on a 29-5 vote. “It hasn’t gone through the same vetting cost,” McGee said. However, he said the two proposals have the same goal. “It’s essentially asking for the same thing. It should not be legal in the state of Idaho to send a text message when you’re operating a motor vehicle.” McGee said the Senate plan might not have support in the House because of the high fines for a misdemeanor. “They’re serious penalties for inattentive driving, and I think those penalties scared off some folks.” The Senate plan originally included fines of up to $300.
The reason to include a misdemeanor for texting while driving, according to Mike Kane, an attorney for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, is to allow for the victims of car collisions to receive damages from offending drivers. “With a misdemeanor … prosecutors have the ability to seek restitution for injury,” Kane said. “With an infraction, you don’t have that ability.” Kane said allowing courts to assess damages would be cheaper than requiring victims to file civil cases against texting drivers.
The Idaho Senate and House must still approve the changes to the texting ban. McGee said he’s discussed his amendment with backers of the House plan, but hasn’t heard if they support his changes.
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