City of Boise proposes hands-free while driving ordinance

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Boise City Council gave city staff the green light to move forward with a newly proposed ordinance that would ban the use of mobile devices while driving. The language in the ordinance, proposed on Jan. 15, is similar to Meridian’s recent ban on mobile device use.

Just as the Meridian ordinance states, drivers who are caught using their mobile devices while driving face the risk of being ticketed, even while at a stoplight unless the device is in hands-free mode. Exceptions to the ordinance include mobile device use while parked and out of the flow of traffic, or to report an emergency. First responders will also be exempt, as mobile devices are required for their work.

Boise City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings introduced the proposal and was met with support from council members. She has attempted to pass similar laws in Boise in previous years and says she wants to have the same law throughout the Treasure Valley.

“There’s a coordinated effort led by Ada County to have all of the cities and the county have a similar ordinance across the board so that there’s no confusion between, ‘Oh, I’m in Eagle now, what’s the law?’ or ‘I’m in Boise, what is the law here?’” Woodings said.

Woodings was skeptical of ticketing drivers using their devices while stopped at stoplights, but explained that new research caused her to change her way of thinking.

“The Boise Police Department put together a really great memo for me, kind of outlining some of the studies that have been done around cell phone use while driving and some of the behaviors that result from that,” Woodings said. “And one of the things that I found really salient was that studies have shown that it takes your brain a full 30 seconds to mode switch. So when you’re staring at your phone, doing whatever you’re doing, whether you’re checking your email or scrolling through social media, it takes your brain a full 30 seconds to then look up from that and then become engaged in your surroundings again.”

Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey was publically supportive of the Meridian ordinance and is hopeful that the state of Idaho will follow is the city’s footsteps.

“If we’re going to lose local control, we need to have a state law that’s working,” Lavey said. “The local ordinances are improving safety for residents. We don’t want to give that up.”

Meridian City Council representative and chair of the House Transportation and Defense Committee Joe Palmer is responsible for proposing the hands-free driving ordinance in Meridian. While the main focus is ensuring that drivers are not using their mobile devices while operating vehicles, he wants to see states ban all forms of distracted driving.

“[It] could be anything that distracts you from paying attention to the road,” Palmer said during a press conference. “If any policeman sees you and you’re doing something in your vehicle that distracts you from operating your vehicle properly, then he has the right to write you an infraction ticket.”

Palmer ultimately believes that these new ordinances will make Boise, and all of Idaho’s roads, safer.

“We can use law enforcement to make a difference for people that are texting and driving or putting on makeup or whatever, anything that is unsafe,” Palmer said.

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