by Mayor Simison
This last weekend, I traveled across our great state to the City of Salmon with my family to take a ski trip. We traversed the Idaho roads, and for the most part were without cell service for 90% of the time as we drove through the passes and canyons of our beautiful state. I realized during this drive that we all survived being disconnected from our phones. Not for 30 seconds at a stoplight, not even for 20 minutes getting to work, but for hours at a time.
This was a timely reminder about the conversation that is currently taking place in the Idaho State Legislature regarding a state-wide effort to ban handheld cell phone use when driving.
Hopefully, by now you know that Meridian enacted an ordinance last year which bans holding handheld devices while operating vehicles. In consideration of the ban, we had lots of dialogue with the community and those that protect it. As part of this conversation, we asked the community on Nextdoor whether drivers should be allowed to hold hand-held devices while driving. Overwhelmingly, 74% of residents supported action to stop the use of handheld devices while operating vehicles by saying “no, it should be illegal.”
This sentiment is echoed not just in Meridian, but throughout Idaho. In fact, a poll conducted by Idaho Public Policy Institute this year shows that 86% percent of Idahoans want the state to ban cell phone use while driving.
Some people say banning cell phones is infringing on personal liberty. There is no inherit right to talk on a cell phone when driving. In fact, roads are a shared space and we all agree to limits on what we can and can’t do while utilizing them. Regulations are put on speeds, turning movements, and who is or is not allowed to drive. Why do we do these things? To keep people safe. Not just the driver, but passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
While cell phones are helpful to connect us with family and friends, get work done, and access news and information at our fingertips – they can also be a major distraction. The fact of the matter is, putting a handheld device down while driving reduces the risk for accident, injuries or worse. A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Study attributes banning handheld use to reductions in fatal and injury crashes. This matters for our safety and our economy. The Office of Highway Safety in Idaho attributes over $900 Million of economic costs to distracted driving crashes. Eliminating the ability of drivers to hold handheld devices while driving makes sense. That is why Meridian acted.
With the State Legislature now in session, I am encouraged to see the state follow Meridian’s lead and consider the creation of sound statewide regulation to ban handheld cell phone use while driving. I am proud to see Senator Winder who represents Meridian and District 20 working with our law enforcement officers and other partners to develop law that would reduce injuries from these dangerous situations. He has introduced Senate Bill 1250 – a bill that follows what Meridian residents and Idahoans are asking for – creating sound statewide policy to reduce injuries and dangerous situations.
The bill will be scheduled to be heard by the Senate Transportation Committee in the near future. If you care about this issue, I ask that you call the Senate at (208) 332-1000 to let your thoughts be known to the Committee. In addition, I encourage you to reach out to your Legislators. Encourage them to follow the efforts of Meridian and several other local jurisdictions, and take action to ban handheld cell phone use while driving.
As we continue to move forward as a premier City in which our families live, work and play, I hope we can all agree that safety is our number one priority and that should be the case wherever we travel in Idaho. Trust me, we live in a beautiful state and we can all survive, both literally and figuratively, if we put the phone down!
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