A new law prohibiting the use of handheld devices while driving takes effect Wednesday in Idaho .
But officers won’t be writing tickets for offenders just yet. After a grace period for drivers to adjust to the new rule, citations will be issued starting Jan. 1.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed the bill, House Bill 614, into law in March. The law requires that phones remain in hands-free mode at all times while driving, including at traffic lights and stop signs. Drivers can only touch their phones if they’re pulled off the road and stopped.
The law does allow drivers to use their phones via voice commands, in order to activate GPS, send texts or answer calls.
There are a few narrow exceptions to the ban on handheld use, including for law enforcement, paramedics and other emergency personnel acting within the scope of their employment. Farmers and ranchers can use devices for urgent business operations.
Kootenai County sheriff’s Lt. Ryan Higgins said his department typically allows for an “education period” with any new traffic law, with deputies pulling over offenders to issue warnings, not tickets.
Those warnings will go into the system to alert other officers if you’re pulled over again, but won’t count as an infraction.
“For the first six months at least, it’s all about educate, educate, educate,” Higgins said. “The word has been out, but not everyone sees the news or knows it’s a law now.”
Higgins said the new Idaho law closely resembles one already enforced in Washington, so he hoped Kootenai County drivers just across the border would adapt easily to the new rules.
The state law supersedes any local ordinances prohibiting distracted driving. Several cities in Southern Idaho, including Boise, Meridian, Pocatello, Ketchum and Idaho Falls, already have laws making phone usage illegal while driving, but no North Idaho communities have such ordinances.
Once officers start issuing tickets in January, the first offense will mean a $75 fine. The second offense within three years will be a $150 fine, and a third violation in three years could mean $300 and a license suspension of 90 days.
Higgins said he doesn’t expect Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies to be specifically looking for offenses during patrols unless it becomes “a real issue.” However, he acknowledged that distracted driving has always been a problem in Idaho, and probably would continue to be until the end of the education period.
“It is something new and something different, so we expect there to be trial and error,” Higgins said. “But we hope as people learn, Idaho roads will get safer.”
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