Idaho had 64 distracted driving fatalities in 2016, a 25% increase from the previous year. According to the American Automobile Association, texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than impaired driving. With smartphones becoming easier to use everyday, that number could continue to increase.
On October 22, Meridian’s mayor Tammy de Weerd, decided Idaho must put a stop to this dangerous habit. Meridian’s city council voted 4-3 on a new city ordinance that would prohibit the use of any handheld devices while driving in Meridian.
Jeff Lavey, Meridian’s chief of police, proposed the idea of this ordinance in an attempt to curb traffic accidents and road congestion in the rapidly growing city.
Lavey explained that, after the initial proposal, the subsequent processes of receiving public input and thoughtful discussion in city council hearings took several months before it was finally voted on and passed.
“I proposed it to our mayor and our council president, and he said that he would get it on the council agenda to have a high level discussion to really see what the public wanted,” Lavey said. “There were four public hearings for the public to weigh in on it.”
While a “no texting while driving” law already exists in the state of Idaho, the idea behind this city ordinance is for drivers to maintain a completely device-free driving experience, allowing for complete attention to the road and surrounding vehicles. This prohibits the use of cell phones, MP3 players or any other technological devices while operating a vehicle.
This law, however, does not completely take away a driver’s ability to speak on the phone while driving. Vehicles with built-in Bluetooth capabilities, other Bluetooth accessories like headsets and earbuds and built-in speakerphone functionality all allow for a hands-free experience while driving.
Madison Murphy, a junior business major, resides in Meridian and frequently commutes through town.
“I understand that it’s illegal, but I also feel it’s a bit excessive,” Murphy said. “Not the texting part, I can agree with that, but for the whole calling thing — I feel like that should be allowed as long as you’re aware of your surroundings.”
Murphy explained that though this ordinance may decrease accidents at large, she believes younger people will likely ignore the law.
“I think they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do,” Murphy said. “That’s what this generation is all about.”
Failure to comply with this new ordinance will result in a $90 citation. However, given that the ordinance is so new and widely unknown by the public, points will not be added to an individual’s driving record for the time being.
“Not only do we have to educate the public out there and give them a chance to start conforming to the law, we [also]have to train our officers as far as what the expectations are,” Lavey said. “We want to get to a point where the person is not driving down the road with their cell phone in their hand.”
Marissa Oedewaldt, a sophomore elementary education major, is also a resident of Meridian. She believes that this new ordinance will be frustrating and confusing for individuals who do not live in Meridian, but commute through it without knowing about it.
“I understand why [the law is]in place, but I think it’s going to be frustrating for drivers when they’re going from another city and entering Meridian, not knowing they need to stop,” Oedewaldt said. “I think that if they’re going to implement it in one place it should be implemented everywhere. It would just be easier to regulate that way.”
Officer Lavey states this is the exact direction Meridian hopes to take with this new ordinance. Before the “no texting while driving” state law was established in 2012, Meridian was the initial city to propose an ordinance of not texting while driving. The idea eventually caught traction and was later passed as a state law.
“We had our own ordinance before the state decided to come on board,” Lavey said. “That’s our hope this time as well, that the state will realize ‘Enough is enough, everyone is coming up with their own ordinances, we might as well come up with our own state law.’”