City will reconsider distracted driving law

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COEUR d'ALENE - It could be time to re-dial the rule book.

After legislators failed to enact a statewide ban on cell phone use while driving, the city of Coeur d'Alene could make a law of its own.

Last year, city officials said they would take the matter into their own hands if nothing happened at the state level.

Nothing did, as a distracted driving bill was shot down last month, the second year in a row the topic was brought up, but remained unchanged.

"We've got to change it," said citizen Steve Bell, on the prevalence of cell phone use while driving. "It's just too dangerous."

Bell asked the city's General Services Committee last year to create a city law, since the state hadn't. The GSC - subcommittee that recommends topics for the City Council's consideration - supported the idea before deciding to give the state one more crack.

Now, the ball is bouncing back to Coeur d'Alene's court.

Bell said he's taking the idea back to the committee for its meeting Monday, April 25.

GSC members Mike Kennedy, Ron Edinger and John Bruning, who spoke in favor of a city rule last year, said they'd be willing to re-open the discussion.

"I still think a ban is the right idea," Kennedy said. "But I do think it should be addressed at the legislative level."

It won't be, at least for another year.

And if Coeur d'Alene did its own, details would have to be worked out. It never got that far last year. What a city ordinance would entail - whether it includes talking on a cell phone while driving or just texting - all need to be ironed out. As would the cost of a ticket for infractors.

According to AAA Idaho stats, 27 percent of crashes were a result of distracted driving in 2009 across the state, and last year, AT&T reported that drivers who drive and text at the same time are 23 more times as likely to be involved in an accident.

Locally, when testimony was taken last year on the idea of a city rule, opponents said the current distracted driving rule covers cell phone use already. If you're distracted, it could warrant a ticket, they said, so what's the point of spelling out cell phone use in a new rule? Also, the city would have to post signs at all its entrances should it ban the devices.

Proponents said it's becoming such a problem that a new law is necessary.

"I've avoided several accidents because they're on their cell phones," said Patty Nutting, longtime Coeur d'Alene driver who would support a city ordinance because of the danger of mixing the two. "Your reflexes aren't where they should be. You're not as focused. You can't be. You're focused on your conversation."

The GSC meeting is at noon in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.

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