Texting while driving issue surfaces again

If Legislature fails to enact ban, Coeur d’Alene plans to impose its own law

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COEUR d’ALENE — A Caldwell lawmaker plans to re-dial an attempt to ban texting while driving.

Local representatives said they would support it.

Republican state Sen. John McGee, who is drafting a bill, said he expects Idaho to join about 30 other states with similar bans after the 2011 session, rectifying the Legislature’s failure to do so in 2010.

If legislation fails again, the city of Coeur d’Alene has already said it would impose its own citywide rule. But local representatives said they’re confident the state will take care of the matter itself, either adopting McGee’s bill or someone else’s.

“I’m very confident it will pass, and texting will become an infraction of some kind,” said Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. “This seemed to be an important issue last year. Why it didn’t come up sooner I don’t know.”

A bill passed the Senate, but died in the House on a technicality after Rep. Raul Labrador objected.

Questions on what the penalty should be or whether a ban would be enforceable since the state already has a distracted driving rule were the center of the debate.

Those will be ironed out this year, Sen. John Goedde said.

“I think if we delay anymore, cities will take it up, so it’s easier if it’s statewide,” he said.

If a law does come down, either from the state or the city, 19-year-old Karen Devin said she’d support it.

In fact, the Hayden driver said she’s learned from experience that texting and driving don’t mix.

“I don’t do it because it’s too distracting,” she said, parked downtown in Coeur d’Alene. “It’s too scary. There are too many people out there who don’t know how to drive without texting.”

The dangers and awareness about driving while texting have become more prevalent over the last couple of years.

According to AAA Idaho, nearly 9 out of 10 motorists are fearful of texting drivers. In a survey of America motorists, 88 percent rated drivers who text or e-mail as a very serious threat to their own safety. It’s slightly higher than the 87 percent who rated people driving after they drink as a very serious threat.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Councilman Woody McEvers said of implementing a ban.

He said the city was planning to enact its own rule should the state fail to do so in 2011. The city nearly adopted a rule last year, but held off to give the state another chance.

“The state will do the right thing,” he said.

“It should be addressed but I don’t think it will be,” said retiring Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene. “I don’t think there’s the will for it.”

Questions about the enforcement ability, the inattentive driving status and the penalty will surface again this year, he said. And budget and other bigger issues might take up most of the legislators’ time.

“It takes time for this stuff to chill,” he said. “I don’t think we’re there yet in Idaho.”

McGee, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, hopes his bill will satisfy skeptics’ concerns, and expects it will pass, according to the Associated Press.

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