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Hands-free driving ordinance picks up speed at Boise City Hall

The proposal, similar to what Meridian recently adopted, prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving, even if you're stopped at a traffic light.

BOISE, Idaho — The Boise City Council is unanimous in support of a proposed ordinance aimed at curbing crashes related to distracted driving.

Its message: when you're in the driver's seat, your eyes need to be on the road and your hands must be off of your phone.

The ordinance would bar the use of any handheld electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on a roadway within the city of Boise. Exceptions include reporting emergencies; police, fire or medical emergency personnel using devices as part of their official duties; and when the driver is parked or "otherwise pulled off or to the side of a roadway."

Using a phone in hands-free mode would still be allowed.

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In a preliminary vote Tuesday night, all six council members backed a motion to put the proposal onto the council's ordinance reading calendar.

"I think it will save lives," said council member TJ Thomson, who admitted that about a year ago, he was on his phone while waiting for an opportunity to turn onto Cloverdale Road and thought he had an opening just as a child on a bicycle approached.

"I wasn't aware of my surroundings," Thomson said. "I could have hit a kid."

Council member Lisa Sánchez talked about the day she was injured in a crash.

"I was sitting in traffic in April of last year," she said. "There's this weird, deceiving feeling when you're sitting in traffic and not moving. You feel strangely safe ... and that's what it was. It was somebody who was distracted, on their phone, and they had no intention of hurting me, but that's exactly what happened."

Interim Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson made a presentation in favor of the ordinance. Right now, Boise Police officers cite drivers under three code sections for distracted driving: inattentive driving, the state's ban on texting while driving, and following too close.

However, Masterson said, those citations are often issued after an accident has already occurred, rather than as a deterrent.

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Two Boise residents spoke at Tuesday's hearing -- one in favor and one seeking an assurance that the ordinance wouldn't penalize a driver seen reaching down to adjust a car stereo knob.

"I think it's pretty safe," said Elaine Clegg, city council president, in explaining that the ordinance includes definitions of prohibited electronic devices.

Tuesday's vote sets the stage for a first, second and third reading of the ordinance. If approved, it would take effect on July 1. For the first few months, police would emphasize education about the policy, rather than writing tickets.

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