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Idaho bill targets drivers who talk on cell phones

By Anna Rau

Rep. Mike Mitchell (D-Lewiston) has introduced a bill that would slap drivers with a $10 fine for inattentive driving while talking on a cell phone.

"Inattentive driving has become more of a concern, and an expense to all levels of law enforcement," said the Lewiston Democrat.

Mitchell's bill has a long way to go before it ever hits the floor of the House and the Senate. But if it becomes law, driving while on the cell phone could cost you.

We've all seen them, the drivers who have one hand on the wheel, the other on a cell phone, and their mind, somewhere in between.

"Everyday we'll see people make lane changes or you know do bad things because they can't see side to side or the head wherever they happen to have the phone." said Boise Police Sgt. Rich Fuhriman.

So Rep. Mitchell has drafted an inattentive driving bill. Under his measure, motorists could be fined $10 for using their cell phone while driving, but only if they are pulled over for another infraction first. Cell phone use would not be a primary offense violation.

"A cell phone is a distraction, it causes inattentive driving, it causes accidents, the records show it," Mitchell said.
"We see a lot of crashes where inattentive driving was a factor," Sgt. Fuhriman said.

Sgt. Fuhriman said police see more and more drivers on their cell phones, but…

“It's pretty hard to get people to admit that they were on the phone when they crashed. There really aren't any definitive studies that say that using a cell phone constitutes inattentive driving," Sgt. Fuhriman added.

So he says there's really no way to tell at this point if talking on a cell phone is a big enough factor in crashes, to draft a bill that punishes drivers for it.

"I’m always leery about you know laws that may not have a basis in fact," Sgt. Fuhriman said.

But Rep. Mitchell believes cell phones are enough of a distraction, that the bill is necessary. He said it likely will need some retooling before it goes to the floor for debate.

"We have plenty of time, there's not point in passing bad legislation or even wasting the time to discuss it. This is just to raise the issue, let's see where it goes," Mitchell said.

Rep. Mitchell said he's also working with the Department of Transportation Safety Program to add cell phone etiquette to its seatbelt use campaign.