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Police to start issuing citations for violating Idaho's 'hands-free' device law

The law went into effect in July, but officers have focused on education instead of enforcement. That will change on Jan. 1.

BOISE, Idaho — Starting on Friday, January 1, police throughout Idaho will begin issuing citations to drivers who violate the state's new "hands-free" device law.

The law, passed by the Idaho Legislature earlier this year, went into effect on July 1. But up until this point, police focused on educating motorists about the dangers of distracted driving.

According to Idaho State Police, troopers issued more than 700 warnings over the last six months.

Troopers say they have seen more drivers using Bluetooth and other hands-free device options, but more education is needed.

"There is nothing on your screen that is worth your life or the life of another," ISP Lt. Chris Weadick said in a statement on Wednesday. "ISP and our local law enforcement agencies are committed to keeping Idaho roads safe. The goal is to change driving behavior and save lives, and we urge all drivers to pay attention when they are behind the wheel."

While drivers are prohibited from handheld use of their phones while on the road, they can instead use voice commands to activate GPS, answer a call or send a text.

Handheld use of phones or other devices is only allowed if the car is parked and off the road.

Anyone found to be in violation of the law will face a $75 fine for the first offense, along with associated court fees. A second offense will cost $150, plus court fees. A third offense and subsequent offenses within three years will result in a $300 fine. Three offenses in three years can also lead to a license suspension of up to 90 days.

According to the Idaho Transportation Department's Office of Highway Safety, 241 people were killed in Idaho in crashes attributed to distracted driving between 2014 and 2018. Distracted driving is also a contributing factor in one in five of all crashes in Idaho.

"If you're texting or using a device, you're not driving," ISP Sgt. Curt Sproat said. "For a lot of people, devices have become a habit, but it's a very dangerous habit when we're driving. That's why the law is in place and if a citation is the incentive some drivers need to put the device down and focus on the road, officers now have that option."

What drivers need to know about Idaho's hands-free device law:

  • Idaho's hands-free device law requires electronic devices to be in hands-free mode while driving, including when stopped at a red light or stop sign. In other words, with few exceptions, the new hands-free law makes holding a cell phone illegal while operating a vehicle
  • Drivers can only use electronic devices and mobile phones in hands-free mode
  • Drivers are only permitted to touch devices to activate hands-free mode
  • Drivers are not permitted to hold or support any electronic device/phone
  • Activation of GPS, voice to text, and making or receiving calls is permitted with one-touch or voice command
  • Handheld use is allowed only if the vehicle is both stationary and not located in a public travel lane, or an emergency
  • Drivers are not allowed to touch a device for texting, emailing, apps, video, or internet use
  • Should a driver receive two distracted driving violations in three years, the new law states insurance companies can consider those violations when establishing insurance rates for a driver

What drivers can do:

  • If you are expecting a text message or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location. Once you are safely off the road and parked, it is safe to text
  • Designate your passenger as your "designated texter." Allow them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages
  • Activate your phone's "Do Not Disturb" feature, or put your cell phone in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of your vehicle until you arrive at your destination if you are struggling not to use your device while driving

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