BOISE - Three years in the making, Idaho's new texting-while-driving law officially goes into effect on July 1, making it an infraction to text and drive, calling for an $85 fine if a motorist is cited.
Following legislative consideration of texting-while-driving bills during two prior sessions, Idaho became the 37th state to prohibit the practice earlier this year when the legislature passed and the governor signed SB1274. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jim Hammond, Coeur d'Alene.
"The proliferation of cell phones in the culture has changed the way everyone communicates, adding a new deadly wrinkle in a larger distracted driving debate faced by every state in the nation," says AAA Idaho President Jim Manion. "Where we go now depends on how everyone responds to the new law."
AAA and other supporters, including students on the Meridian Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and various law enforcement agencies, lobbied for SB1274 in 2012.
In addition, testimony and public outreach by the family of 18-year-old Taylor Sauer gave the issue more visibility, especially when the NBC Today Show took the story and the Idaho legislation to a national television audience. Sauer died in a high-profile texting-while-driving collision on Interstate 84 in January.
AAA Idaho's November 2011 statewide survey of registered Idaho voters showed that nearly nine in ten Idahoans (87 percent) supported a legislative ban on texting while driving. That enormous public support is backed by Idaho crash data that shows 192 people were killed and 1,534 were seriously injured in crashes involving distracted driving between 2008-2010.
"When we told legislators that 30 percent of Idaho's road fatalities involve distracted driving and that Idaho's inattentive driving law yields just two percent of all the citations issued statewide, some who wondered whether we needed a specific texting ban may have changed their minds," Manion said.
AAA Idaho, which has for decades lobbied for safety legislation, concedes that the new ban will not solve Idaho's distracted driving problem.
"It will send a message that the state has taken the first step in dealing with this problem," Manion said.
AAA says it expects law enforcement agencies will not be in a rush to issue tickets, preferring instead to spend time educating motorists and determining how best to recognize the behaviors of texting drivers.
Enforcing the new law will take time and effort, AAA Idaho says, and a single law will not solve this problem. History shows that high-visibility laws paired with clear penalties, education and public outreach are necessary to alter dangerous behaviors like speeding and drinking while driving.
For their part, motorists need to assume responsibility to respect the new law, AAA says.