Bill would make using cell phones while driving in Idaho illegal

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Texting and driving is already illegal in Idaho, and a newly introduced bill would ban cell phone use altogether for drivers, with few exceptions.

The stated purpose of Senate Bill 1283, introduced Feb. 8 by the Idaho Senate Transportation Committee, is to limit distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 people died due to distracted driving in 2015, in part because of cell phone use. Studies have also linked using mobile devices to impaired driving ability.

The bill would be similar to laws in other states that legally limit use of electronics while driving. Washington, for example, expanded its limitations on electronic usage for drivers in 2017. Of surrounding states, Oregon, Washington and Nevada prohibit driving with a phone in hand.

Drivers in Idaho under 21 would be most affected if the bill were to become law. While the bill provides exceptions for most drivers, under-21-year-olds would only be able to legally use mobile devices in cases of emergency, such as reporting an accident or reckless driving. Indiana is currently the only state that bans under-21-year-olds from any use of mobile devices, though 38 states and Washington D.C. don’t allow novice or teen drivers to use cell phones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Older drivers would still be allowed to dial telephone numbers and place or receive calls, as long as they speak in hands-free mode. They would also be able to activate and deactivate apps and use a GPS — provided they don’t enter directions while driving.

The fine for violating the proposed legislation would be $100 on first offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses. The fines for texting and driving in Idaho currently total $81.50.

Law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency personnel are excluded from the proposed requirements when acting in the scope of their duties.

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Nina Rydalch covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

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