Drivers and cellphones just don’t mix

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We’re not fans of unnecessary rules and regulations, but the time has come for Idaho to adopt one that will certainly save property and might very well save lives.

It’s this: Strengthening state law to hammer motor vehicle operators using hand-held devices.

Idaho was wise to adopt mandatory seat belt use because somebody must’ve seen these cellphone-abusing fools heading their way. Yet as a state, we haven’t gone far enough in discouraging this reckless, self-centered behavior.

Texting while driving is against the law but hard to enforce. Rare tickets and small fines, averaging about $85, simply aren’t a deterrent. Some in law enforcement say texting specifically and even distracted driving in general are so hard to pin on drivers that instead they charge violators for inattentive driving, failure to maintain a lane or something similar. Even in the highest offices of state law enforcement, there are calls for more effective education rather than more forceful legislation. We recommend both.

The National Safety Council reports using a cellphone while driving results in 1.6 million crashes annually. One in four car accidents is caused by texting while driving.

A Forbes Business study found 47 percent of adults and 58 percent of high school seniors text while driving.

In 2016, AAA Idaho tried but failed to get the Legislature to adopt a hand-held cellphone ban for motorists.

How many times in the last week have you driven to work, to the grocery store or somewhere more than a few blocks from your home, only to see someone coming at you with eyes downcast and vehicle drifting toward the center of the road? Maybe over it, into your lane? It’s infuriating because it’s unnecessarily dangerous. While this pervasive form of distracted driving can’t be eradicated, the danger can be diminished significantly with some rational yet strong legislation.

The recent “advance” in speaking into your phone and having that message forwarded as a text hardly mitigates the fact that when one of your hands is occupied, you’ve compromised your ability to react to a dangerous situation as quickly as you might need to. Having your mouth and mind elsewhere won’t help.

Studies have shown upward of 80 percent of traffic accidents involve driver distraction of some kind. That momentary lapse can and sometimes does prove fatal. While cellphones aren’t the only culprits, their pervasive use and abuse is clearly contributing to the problem.

While better driver education programs start their long, slow crawl toward actually changing driving habits, Kootenai County legislators could help make roads safer for all Idahoans by introducing legislation in the next session that would seriously discourage drivers’ use of hand-held devices. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take a spate of fatal crashes to drive the point home.

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