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Idaho Senate backs texting-while-driving ban

Domed ceiling of the Idaho Senate chamber (Betsy Russell)
Domed ceiling of the Idaho Senate chamber (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - The Idaho Senate has voted 29-6 in favor of banning texting while driving in the state, making it an infraction; the bill now moves to the House.

“This bill specifically calls out texting as inappropriate and unsafe, and it provides guidance for those who might text that it’s against the law,” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Senate.

Hammond said he used to think Idaho’s inattentive driving laws adequately addressed this issue, but then he learned that just from 2002 to 2007, 16,141 deaths nationwide were caused by texting while driving. “Any activity that we undertake to enhance the safety of our driving public relative to this rising number of fatalities seems imperative to me,” he said.

In January, an 18-year-old Caldwell woman, Taylor Sauer, died in a freeway crash while texting. Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, Hammond’s co-sponsor on the bill, read a letter from her family urging passage of the bill, and the Senate welcomed the family, which sat in the gallery, with applause.

“For our young people, reaching for their smart phone is second nature,” Lodge told the Senate. “With the exuberance of their youth, they do not understand the dangers of driving while texting.”

Idaho’s Legislature has considered texting bans for each of the last three years, but has never successfully passed one. Two years ago, a ban that had passed the Senate died on the final night of the legislative session in the House, when then-Rep. Raul Labrador, now an Idaho congressman, used a parliamentary maneuver to force a two-thirds vote. The bill failed, with just a 37-30 majority.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said, “It’s been a long wait. … We have a bill that I think is better than any of the bills that we’ve seen before.”

Idaho currently has misdemeanor penalties for inattentive driving, but no specific law banning texting while driving.

All of North Idaho’s senators voted in favor of the bill except for Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood.

“I have to admit, I’ve done it, and I found myself weaving and not being in my lane of traffic,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. “We need to be sure that we are protecting Idaho citizens from their own stupidity, and I’m sorry, that’s the way I feel about it.”

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