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Meridian police chief has concerns about distracted driving bill, but wants a state law

“I don’t have a problem with them taking away the local authority as long as they have a decent law.”
Credit: Idaho Press
Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey, who encouraged the city council to ban handheld phone use for drivers, poses for a photo at Meridian City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Council passed the ban in October, and police in January started issuing tickets for the offense.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey has concerns with provisions of Rep. Joe Palmer’s proposed distracted driving bill, but is glad he “got that dialog started Week 1” in the legislative session, the Idaho Press reports.

Lavey is only a week into full enforcement of Meridian’s new hands-free ordinance, which prohibits drivers from using a handheld cellphone while driving, and his department has issued 18 citations and 13 warnings during the seven-day period from Jan. 1 to Jan. 6.

“I like to be hopeful and say that I think we’re making a difference,” he told the Idaho Press on Thursday.

Asked about the new bill Palmer, the House transportation chairman, introduced a day earlier — which would eliminate all local hands-free ordinances on July 1, and replace them with a new statewide distracted driving law — Lavey said, “I don’t have a problem with them taking away the local authority as long as they have a decent law.” But as for Palmer’s bill, he said, “There’s a lot of problems with it.”

RELATED: Proposed bill would create new distracted driving law in Idaho

“It’s very subjective to law enforcement and it gives law enforcement a wide range of what’s distracted, what’s not distracted,” the police chief said. “And I don’t see a Legislature or a community that is going to say we want that much authority on the part of law enforcement. Because what I think is distracted may be totally different than the next officer.”

He has other concerns about the bill as well. But Lavey said he was glad that Palmer brought the issue forward so early in the legislative session. “I appreciate the fact that he got that dialog started Week 1,” Lavey said.

Lavey said there are multiple bills in the works on the topic; he’s been working with the insurance industry and other stakeholders on one, and has also reached out to Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who is drafting one.

“Hopefully with all those ideas out there, we’ll have something that will stick,” Lavey said.

RELATED: Meridian residents react to new hands-free ordinance: 'I think it's a great deal'

“We want the hands free — we want the phone out of the hands of the driver,” he said. “We want ‘em to fully focus on being behind the wheel at all times. And you have a lot of people that will say, ‘I’m a safe driver because I haven’t gotten in a crash when I’m on my phone,’ or ‘I’m a safe driver because I haven’t got pulled over when I’m on my phone.’ You’re not a safe driver, you’re a lucky driver.”

He said he’s also been hearing people complain that they don’t know where the city limits are; Meridian’s ordinance applies only within Meridian city limits. “I say, ‘You’re missing the point.’ If you put your phone down and just drive, it shouldn’t make any difference what jurisdiction you’re in,” he said, “and believe me, law enforcement knows whether you’re in the city limits or not.”

“We’ve really got to change behavior out there,” Lavey said. “People are addicted to the phones.”

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