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Meridian police chief says handheld device ban while driving will make streets safer and decrease road rage

Meridian would be the first city in the Treasure Valley to require drivers to only use cellphones while driving if it is hands free.
Credit: KTVB
File photo of someone talking on a cell phone while driving.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Meridian City Council punted a decision to ban hand-held phone use while driving at its Tuesday meeting.

Earlier this year, the city began conversations about creating an ordinance banning drivers from using hand-held devices on Meridian roads. If council passed the ordinance, Meridian would be the first city in the Treasure Valley to require drivers to only use cellphones while driving if it is hands free.

RELATED: Hailey bans cell phones while driving

At the Tuesday meeting, the Meridian council continued the public hearing for the ordinance to Oct. 8. The proposed ordinance would make Meridian streets safer and decrease road rage, Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey said.

“We have to have laws in place to show people and hold them accountable when they make a wrong decision,” Lavey said. “We’ve watched year after year after year, and it is getting worse.”

Drivers in 81 crashes in Meridian in 2018 admitted to using a cellphone — such as texting, reviewing a text or email, looking at caller ID, talking on the phone or reviewing GPS. The city saw an increase of more than 120 crashes from 2017 to 2018, Lavey told the Idaho Press in July.

There isn’t a mechanism for law enforcement to penalize drivers for being on their phone while they drive, Lavey said. Idaho law only bans texting while driving, not other types of use. Lavey said Idaho’s reckless driving and inattention driving laws would both be inappropriate, because they can only be handed out after something has happened, like a crash. They are also both misdemeanors.

RELATED: Ketchum bans all phone use while driving

Violating the proposed ordinance would result in an infraction, Lavey said. In Idaho, non-speeding-related traffic infractions come with a $90 fine.

Twenty states ban hand-held cellphone use while driving, including Oregon, Washington and Nevada, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Earlier this year, a bill forbidding the use of hand-held cellphones while driving died in the Idaho Senate. The bill’s penalties — a $50 fine for a first infraction, $100 for a second offense, and $200 for a third offense, with fines doubling if the driver hit someone — were designed to educate drivers above punishing them, the Idaho Press previously reported.

RELATED: Bill to ban cell phones while driving defeated by Idaho Senate

Lavey said he doesn’t have faith that the legislature will pass a ban on hand-held cellphone use soon and he doesn’t believe the city can “wait any longer.”

Similar citywide bans have passed in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Hailey and Ketchum, which vary in severity from a citation to an infraction with a $80 to $100 fine depending on the city. Lavey said Meridian’s draft ordinance language is similar to Hailey’s.

If the ordinance passes, drivers could still use their phones, they would just have to keep their hands on the wheel. The proposed ordinance also allows for drivers to use navigational apps like Google Maps as long as they aren’t holding the phone or manually entering information into it.

Under the draft ordinance, drivers could still use their phones to report an emergency to first responders.

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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