Washington state’s new $124 fine for drivers using a cell phone is unlikely to shift east to Idaho in the next year, according to state lawmakers, but the failed ban on texting while driving could return.
The Washington law went into effect earlier this month and makes using a cell phone without a hands-free device a primary offense, meaning police can stop drivers they see using a phone, according to The Seattle Times. Five other states, including Oregon, have similar laws.
Idaho lawmakers discussed several versions of a ban on texting-while-driving, but the House and Senate couldn’t reach a compromise. Idaho House Republicans, including Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, rejected a plan in the waning moments of the legislative session that would have imposed $50 fines for texting drivers that would escalate to $500 if the button pushing on a mobile device led to an injury or property damage.
Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who backed the texting ban this year, said it’s too early to say whether a texting ban would come back next year, and that he’d need to talk about the issue with legislative leaders. He also said there are different degrees of danger between texting and talking on a phone while driving. “With texting, you’re looking at the phone,” he said. “With talking, you’re at least looking at the road.”
The tougher cell phone ban has some support in the Legislature. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, who supported McGee’s efforts to impose the texting ban, said he’ll discuss the issue with law enforcement officials before the next session. Bock said he’s confident the texting ban will pass next year, though he said it would be several more years before a cell phone ban could gain support.
“The cognitive capacity that cell phone use creates is essentially the same as driving under the influence,” Bock said.
AAA Idaho, which serves drivers across the state, favors the texting ban, but its leaders are still researching laws banning phone use behind the wheel. "I would anticipate that down the road, so to speak, we would be interested in the cell phone (ban), but the texting plan is certainly on our radar and is the first priority," said Jim Mannion, AAA Idaho president.
Across the country, 28 states, including Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, and Washington, ban text messaging for drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.