Senate committee OKs distracted driving legislation

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A bill that would ban all use of mobile devices for drivers in Idaho, with few exceptions, has been passed by a Senate committee and sent for amendments per sponsor’s request.

During the Idaho Senate Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday, Michael Kane, a lobbyist for the Property and Casualty Insurance Association of America, said a mistake had been made in the bill, making it an infraction for people to use their phones at stop signs and stop lights. Kane said the intention was to make it only an infraction if the vehicle were in motion.

“We’ve probably all been there where we get annoyed if the person in front of us isn’t going through that green light when the light changes,” Kane said. “But we did not think that that was particularly Idaho friendly.”

The bill would make it illegal for drivers to use mobile devices except in cases of emergency, to dial a number or receive a call and to check Google Maps if directions had been entered prior to driving. Drivers over 21 would be able to use a cell phone in hands-free mode.

“What we’re finding is that with the use of the iPad in particular, people are actually watching YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Messenger, Gmail while driving,” Kane said. “And when that happens, when that happens, or when you’re speaking on the cell phone and holding the phone to your ear … you get this triple-whammy going on.”

That “triple-whammy,” he said, is when drivers have one hand off the wheel, take their eyes off the road and think about something other than driving. He said distracted driving due to electronics usage has likely caused the spike in car crash fatalities in recent years.

The bill is notably supported by AAA and Verizon, Kane said.

Currently, the bill says under-21-year-olds and drivers with a learner’s permit would only be allowed to use a mobile device in case of emergency, without the other exceptions provided to older drivers. They would be prohibited from using Google Maps, speaking hands-free, or listening to music on their phones while driving, even in cases where an app was activated prior to driving, Kane said. Listening to in-car radio would still be legal.

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

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