Veto of text messaging ban stands

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SANDPOINT — The newly configured City Council declined on Wednesday to disturb Mayor Gretchen Hellar’s veto of a proposed ordinance that would have banned text messaging while driving in Sandpoint.

Councilwoman Carrie Logan made a last-ditch effort to resurrect the legislation  by moving to override the mayor’s veto.

“I believe that the vast amount of research indicates that texting is a huge safety issue,” said Logan, who argued that existing state and city codes concerning inattentive do not adequately address drivers distracted by their handheld devices.

Neither of those codes specifically identify text messaging and both rely on subjective interpretations of what constitutes inattention while driving. The proposed ordinance, however, targets the behavior in clear language and also applies to the inattention of cyclists and skateboard riders.

“Sandpoint is a unique town and very concerned with the well being of all citizens; this is a proactive step in that progression towards enhanced safety for motorized and non-motorized forms of transportation,” Logan said.

Councilman John Reuter seconded Logan’s motion, but strictly for the purposes of discussion.

Reuter opposes a local rule against text messaging while driving and believes lawmakers in Boise will pass legislation concerning texting and driving this session.

State Sen. John McGee, a Republican from Caldwell who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, is currently pushing for legislation that would prohibit texting and driving, Reuter noted.

“There will be, I believe, a state law,” said Reuter.

Outgoing Councilwoman Helen Newton, who originally proposed the ordinance to combat distracted driving caused by handheld devices, urged the new council to be a vanguard on the issue in Idaho.

Newton pointed to National Safety Council findings that such distracted driving was responsible for 1.6 million accidents annually and that one out of four crashes in the nation were caused by cell phone distractions.

“Tonight, you have a rare opportunity as a new city council. You can do something that truly shows leadership and a willingness to be bold and proactive,” she said.

Newly sworn Councilman Justin Schuck stood by police Chief Mark Lockwood’s contention that existing codes are sufficient. Councilwoman Jamie Davis, who was also sworn in on Wednesday, said she is open to further discussion on the matter.

“I do think it’s something the city should continue to keep its eye on,” said Davis.

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