Hands-free rule gets thumbs down

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SANDPOINT — A proposed rule requiring motorists to use a hands-free device while driving and talking on their cell phones within the city limits was narrowly defeated Wednesday.

The City Council knotted 3-3 on the proposed legislation and Mayor Gretchen Hellar cast the deciding vote against the measure.

But that doesn’t mean unsafe drivers who are distracted by phone conversations are off the hook. Sandpoint Police Chief Mark Lockwood said existing inattentive or reckless driving statutes can be used to hold distracted drivers accountable.

“I have a tool to deal with it,” said Lockwood, referring to existing laws.

Councilman John O’Hara agreed and also expressed discomfort with the concept of having a phone to your ear serve as the basis for a traffic stop.

“It would be very difficult to enforce on a local basis,” said City Attorney Will Herrington, who conceded that there are already enough complaints from people who feel they’re subjected to police harassment in Sandpoint.

“I don’t understand why it’s impossible to enforce,” said Councilwoman Carrie Logan, who equated it to local parking regulation enforcement. “I don’t see what the issue is.”

Councilwoman Helen Newton proposed the requirement to improve safety. The legislation would have also applied to cyclists and skateboard riders, in addition to banning all forms of text messaging while behind the wheel.

Newton contends signs posted at city limits would advise motorists of the rule. Councilman Michael Boge pointed out that news of the proposal in Sandpoint has made its way all the way down to Boise media outlets.

“A lot of people are looking at this statewide,” he said.

Councilmen John Reuter and Stephen Snedden forecasted enforcement headaches, especially if other municipalities start enacting similar, but slightly different forms of legislation.

“You have these series of differing codes as you drive through these jurisdictions,” said Reuter, who proposed a resolution urging the state to implement the rule.

Snedden, Reutuer and O’Hara voted against the ordinance amendment, while Newton, Logan and Boge voted in favor.

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