Twin Falls City Council has adopted a plan to ban texting-while-driving within its city limits. The proposal, approved by council members Monday, will not go into effect until later this year. Council members made the city the first in the state to ban the practice.
If a driver is caught texting behind the wheel by police officers in Twin Falls, he will face a $50 fine. Greg Lanting, councilman for the city, told KTVB television that drivers will be given time to adjust to the new law. "If officers see people they believe are texting they are going to be stopped and it will originally be an education thing trying to get people to realize it is against the law in the city of Twin Falls," Lanting said.
The new law might be difficult to enforce or prosecute, however. Though the new provision prevents texting for drivers operating a vehicle, it will allow motorists to talk on their phones or dial the phone. A ban on texting statewide failed during the 2010 legislative session because lawmakers felt that officers in the state wouldn't be able to determine when a person was texting without requisitioning phone records into courts, a time consuming process for courts and officers. Lanting said the decision to go after drivers who might be texting will be up to officers. "Officers have to make judgment calls and courts have to make decisions based on judgment calls all the time so that's the approach we're taking," said Lanting.
Police officers and other first responders are exempt from the ban when it goes into effect.
Twin Falls is the second government or government-related entity to ban texting in the last few months. In July, the Boise Police Department, concerned about safety of its officers, banned texting behind the wheel on city time. Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson said his officers are going to lead by example. "We, as police officers, urge people not to text while driving. There’s growing evidence that texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for too long, and sadly, already has been a deadly distraction on our roads. I believe we have to follow the same safety advice we give to the people we serve – do not text and drive," Masterson said.
Though a statewide ban failed to make it through the Legislature in 2010, the issue is not going away. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, is crafting legislation to enact some type of ban in 2011. Hagedorn’s proposal for the 2011 session, which he says is still in the works, would create an entirely new category of offenses for those who do a number of things that lead to distracted and unsafe driving, including texting.
State law already provides for prosecution of those cited for inattentive or reckless driving, but Hagedorn’s bill would create “negligent driving,” which could be used against those who text, eat, read, or practice other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel off a moving vehicle. There would be one catch for officers trying to enforce the law if it’s passed next year: those using cell phones or eating behind the wheel would also need to exhibit unsafe driving, such as speeding or weaving. An officer would be unable to stop someone texting while driving if that person exhibited no unsafe behavior on the road, like weaving, speeding, or making unsafe lane changes.
Though Twin Falls is the first city to ban texting behind the wheel, it’s likely that it won't be the last. The city of Coeur d'Alene is giving the Idaho Legislature one more session to create its own prohibition before it passes its own version of the ban. Members of the city council in the north Idaho resort town drafted its own ban earlier this year, but killed the measure because it looked like the Legislature was primed to ban the practice. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, told the Coeur D'Alene Press that he expects a ban to clear the Legislature in 2011.