Eye On Boise

Boise Police ban texting while driving

The police department of the largest city in the state is banning texting while driving for its officers on patrol, an interesting move after the Idaho Legislature this year failed to pass such a ban for all Idaho drivers, even with an exemption in it for law enforcement and emergency workers. "There's growing evidence that texting takes a driver's eyes off the road for too long, and sadly, already has been a deadly distraction on our roads," Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson told The Associated Press. "We have to follow the same safety advice we give to the people we serve — do not text and drive." Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

No more texting and driving for Boise officers
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Boise Police Department announced Thursday it is barring employees from using cell phones and other handheld devices to text or e-mail while driving the agency's vehicles, a move the force says sets a good example for all drivers.

Police in Idaho's largest city are taking the step three months after the Legislature failed to enact a statewide texting-while-driving ban. At least 29 other states have passed some type of restrictions.

Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson said his employees can still use handheld electronic devices while driving to get GPS information. The ban also won't prohibit officers from talking on their cell phones while driving, something seen as critical to doing their jobs.

But sending text messages while driving will no longer be in his officers' arsenal of tools as they try to protect the public.

"There's growing evidence that texting takes a driver's eyes off the road for too long, and sadly, already has been a deadly distraction on our roads," Masterson said. "We have to follow the same safety advice we give to the people we serve — do not text and drive."

An 18-year-old from southwestern Idaho, Kassandra Kerfoot, died in December after losing control of her car while texting and crashing into oncoming traffic.

Boise police employees were involved in 37 crashes last year while driving 1.7 million miles — fewer accidents than other forces in similar-size cities, the agency said.

None of those accidents involved texting on a phone or other handheld device, either by the employee or the citizen, said Lynn Hightower, a police spokeswoman. There was also no evidence officers were regularly texting while driving, she said.

"The reason for this policy, which has been under discussion in the department for several weeks, is simply the safety factor," Hightower said. "The chief considers this a pre-emptive move."

Like most police agencies, Boise Police Department officers do have computers in their cars; the ban doesn't cover use of those, Hightower said, adding that the computers don't have Internet access and have preprogrammed keys that eliminate superfluous typing.

"Those display terminals give officers immediate information about incidents that are on going and that they are en route to respond to," she said. "That operation is considered one that is critical to the mission of public safety and one that officers are trained to use."

In March, the Idaho House failed to pass a measure that would have fined people who typed on their mobile devices $50. Chief among its opponents was state Rep. Raul Labrador, an Eagle Republican who is now running for the U.S. House.

He blasted the bill as unenforceable before employing a rare procedural move to block its passage.

Other states, however, have been responding to concerns that texting while driving — especially by teens — is increasingly becoming a traffic hazard. At least 29 other states and the District of Columbia have banned drivers from texting — including some that have restricted police from the practice, too.

Non-emergency Boise city employees are already banned from talking on their cell phones while driving city-owned vehicles, and Boise is considering bolstering that by adding texting prohibitions, too.

"We have a draft under review now," city spokesman Adam Park said Thursday. "Police represent the greatest number of city drivers. However, we are reviewing our policy for all employees."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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