Liberal city councils across Idaho are imposing redundant laws banning cell phones while driving
What happened: Several city councils across Idaho have imposed ordinances banning the use of cell phones while driving in city limits.
Why it matters: The varying versions of the ordinances are problematic for several reasons.
The ordinances are:
- Redundant (Inattentive driving is a statewide law)
- Creates serious confusion for drivers (because of differing laws in various cities)
- “Contrary to state law,” according to a recent decision by an Idaho district judge.
Most Idahoans don’t want a ban on cell phone use, according to Senator Dan Foreman R-Moscow. The issue was debated at the state level in the 2018 legislative session. “The people have spoken on this issue,” reported the Spokesman-Review, citing Foreman. “The people of the state of Idaho do not want to lose their ability to legally use their electronic devices – whether that’s safe or not by any technical definition is a moot point in my mind.” Senator Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, called the bill “another example of overreach,” the Spokesman-Review also reported. The bill died in the Senate on a 22-13 vote.
In cities and counties, where far less attention seems to be paid to legislative actions, the people of the state of Idaho have not been nearly as vocal. The cities of Ketchum, Hailey, Sandpoint, Pocatello and Idaho Falls have passed various versions of cell phone bans in the last few years, but enforcement of the law has been minimal. Other cities, like Blackfoot, are poised to enact similar regulations. Penalties average around $100 for the first offense. In Idaho Falls, a second offense comes with a $250 ticket.
The ordinances differ, which creates inconsistencies and confusion as drivers travel from city to city. For example, Pocatello’s ordinance which allows cell phones to be used as navigation devices, while other city ordinances don’t allow this exemption.
A court case against the City of Hailey may impact local governments’ ability to pass such regulations. The Post Register reported that in October, a district judge ruled that the ordinance was “contrary to state law.”
According to court documents, the Plaintiff’s attorney argued Idaho Code section 49-206 does not allow cities or counties to impose such laws. The code specifies the provisions of the motor vehicle section “shall be applicable and uniform throughout this state in all political subdivisions and municipalities and no local authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance on a matter covered by the provisions of this title unless expressly authorized.”
The City of Hailey’s legal counsel argued that Idaho Code does, in fact, expressly grant cities this authority in section 49-207: “These provisions of law shall not be construed to prevent cities from enacting and enforcing general ordinances prescribing additional requirements as to speed, manner of driving or operating vehicles on any of the highways of such cities…,” the Post Register reported, and that Hailey Prosecuting Attorney Rick Allington expects the issue to be taken up by the Court of Appeals.
The ordinances, along with the texting-while-driving law passed statewide are redundant and difficult to enforce. Some law enforcement officials have openly questioned the purpose of this type of legislation. “We already have inattentive driving on the books. This is just making a law to make another law, I think,” said Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland, according to the Idaho State Journal, referring to the texting-while-driving law passed a few years ago. “It’s very difficult to catch someone texting and driving unless they get in a crash, and you can prove it,” Rowland explained.
Several people across the right side of the conservative political spectrum have spoken out against the ordinances. Radio talk show host and columnist Neal Larson spoke out against the decision of the Idaho Falls City Council, as did newly-elected state Representative Chad Christensen and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said during the discussion of the cell phone ban, “You can be distracted by anything. Even a burrito can be dangerous,” according to East Idaho News.
More dangerous than a burrito is sitting idly by and allowing the government to enact laws which do little to solve problems like distracted driving, but certainly create other problems like those mentioned here. Cell phone bans in cities are redundant, largely unenforceable, inconsistent between jurisdictions and downright confusing.
Let’s start paying more attention to our local governments and speak out against this overreach imposed on us by liberal city councils.
Holly Cook earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Economy from the College of Idaho, has been active in Idaho politics for several years, and enjoys writing political commentary and news.