The 2011 legislative session ended without a ban on texting while driving, making Idaho one of only nine states to allow it.
As a result, some cities are taking matters into their own hands. On Tuesday night, Blackfoot did just that.
City officials said the intent isn’t to hand out tickets left and right. They’ll start with warnings and an educational campaign, with hopes of preventing the behavior from happening at all.
Estella Delgado sent a text message from a Blackfoot sidewalk on Wednesday morning.
“Cell phone usage is rampant,” said Delgado. “Its everywhere you go, whether on the street or in a store. But the most dangerous one is while you’re driving.”
The city of Blackfoot is trying to curb the dangerous trend. Council members unanimously approved an ordinance that says it is against the law “to write, send, or read a text-based communication”. Doing so can cost you $50 in fines.
“It gives law enforcement another way to monitor it a little bit,” said Blackfoot Mayor Mike Virtue.
“A drunk driver is focusing forward to keep themselves on the road. A texter’s eyes are off the road and down on their laptop device,” said Police Chief David Moore. “It’s becoming more of a hazard than a DUI.”
It’s not just texting that’s banned behind the wheel. The ordinance is phrased “text-based communications,” meaning if you have a smart phone, Facebook, e-mail and Twitter are off limits too.
“The only thing we’re going to allow is cell phone usage for phone calls,” said Moore.
The million dollar question: Can it be enforced?
“There’s a difference between if they’re texting or checking on an incoming phone call. And you can just tell by the way they’re using the phone,” said Moore.
If there’s any doubt, Moore said records can be pulled from cell phone companies.
But residents said they’re glad to see Blackfoot joining the small safety club, alongside Meridian, Twin Falls and Rexburg.
“I think it’s great because texting can lead to accidents. We need to reduce that as much as possible,” said Blackfoot resident Kristi Thompson.
Rexburg passed a similar ordinance in April that also bans texting while in a crosswalk. Idaho Falls and Pocatello do not have texting specific laws. Both use the state’s inattentive driving law, which carries harsher penalties.
City officials said repeat offenders could be charged under the inattentive driving law, which can be a misdemeanor offense. That can affect driving records and insurance rates.
Moore said he does expect a state law to pass, and carry higher penalties.