7 Investigates: Is Idaho's texting while driving ban working?

KTVB talked with several local agencies to see how they are enforcing Idaho's distracted driving law, how many citations have been written and whether the law is working to make our roads safer.

BOISE -- For nearly four years, it has been illegal in Idaho to read or write a message on your phone or any other electronic device while driving.

Earlier this month, we told you about the texting while driving law and how the state is missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding because the law isn't strict enough.

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KTVB talked with several local agencies to see how they are enforcing the law, how many citations have been written, and whether the law is working to make our roads safer.

Every day, Meridian officer Will Stoy takes off with one driving danger in the back of his mind. He's looking out for anyone looking down behind the wheel.

"Most people know what they're doing is against the law but they're just in such a habit of when the phone rings or buzzes or whatever you have it set to, when it makes a sound, people are in such a habit of grabbing that phone and looking at it to see what's going on," said Stoy.

It isn't just texting while driving that is against the law. Looking at anything on your device - like the internet, an email or even a GPS map - while your car is in motion is illegal.

"Most days, at least one or two times a day during the course of my other duties I'm seeing someone using their phone while they're driving down the road," said Stoy. 

In fact, when our crew followed Stoy as he recently patrolled on Eagle Road, it was just few minutes before he pulled someone over for using a device while driving.  Stoy says it's usually pretty easy to spot, and he can also ask a driver to check their phone's history, after he's pulled them over.

He says he's probably written more texting and driving citations than any other officer in the state - about 300 since the law passed in July of 2012.

"I don't feel it's tough for us to enforce, it's a different type of enforcement," he said. "It's something we as law enforcement have to look for it to be happening."

But, in comparison, the entire Boise Police department has written less tickets than Stoy alone - only 265 total over the same four year period.

Cpl. Kyle Wills says the law is difficult to prove, primarily because it's still legal for drivers to use a device when the vehicle is not in motion, such as at at a traffic light.

"Texting and driving is certainly more difficult of a law to enforce, seeing and getting the violation," said Wills.

The Office of Highway Safety says since the state law passed in 2012, there have been less than 2,000 citations issued across Idaho. That's compared to more than 11,000 tickets for inattentive driving.

That charge is a more serious misdemeanor, and can include distracted driving, but usually involves other violations as well, and often a crash.

Idaho State Police statistics are also low - just 312 texting and driving violations since 2012.

"I think it comes down to we are doing the best we can to enforce it, it's hard to prove unless we absolutely see the person in the car," said Brandolyn Crapo with the Idaho State Police.

So, is the law working?

"I believe most people are aware of it and I hope it's making a difference but right now it's hard to say," said Crapo.

The agencies we talked with say the law is helping.

"Having a law is better than not having one, so even though it's a little more difficult we still find it useful," said Wills.

But, they also say more could be done to keep drivers focused, and roads safer.

"It still is a huge problem, we really need to get the word out to people that this is against the law and most importantly it's just not safe," said Stoy.

A texting a driving violation won't go on your driving record or affect your insurance, but will cost you $81.50.

All the officers we talked to say they would support a hands free law, where no cell phone use at all is allowed while driving.

So far though, no lawmakers in Idaho have proposed that type of bill.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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