West Ada

Ada County, other cities could follow Meridian’s ban on cellphone use while driving

The Meridian City Council voted Tuesday night to ban the handheld use of cellphones while driving. Other local cities’ leaders say they are paying attention to the implementation of that new ordinance to determine whether they should follow suit.

But the county that’s home to Boise and Meridian might get there first. Ada County Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said the county has been looking at adopting a similar ordinance.

“This is smart public policy,” she wrote in a statement to the Statesman. “We know that handheld devices make drivers less attentive, and with more traffic on our roadways, that is never a good thing. We commend Meridian on taking this important step.

“We look forward to moving ahead soon.”

Idaho already has a statute banning texting while driving. Almost all U.S. states have adopted some sort of law that limits drivers’ use of their phones, with the goal of reducing distractions to keep roads safer.

Yet statistics show that motorists have become increasingly distracted by their phones. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which conducts a yearly survey on driver behavior, found that in 2018, nearly half of drivers reported recently talking on their cellphone, a number that has jumped by 46% since 2013. And a 2015 survey commissioned by AT&T showed that 27% of drivers ages 16 to 65 used Facebook on their phones while on the road, and 61% texted.

In 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board called for states to ban drivers from using cellphones and even hands-free devices. Idaho has not taken up that call, but Meridian’s new ordinance makes it the first city in the Treasure Valley to follow the cellphone recommendation. Some other Idaho towns, such as Hailey, Pocatello and Idaho Falls, have implemented bans.

But new restrictions can be a hard sell.

In February, Sen. Jim Rice, a Caldwell Republican, proposed a bill in the Legislature that would have prohibited the handheld use of cellphones while driving. Lawmakers raised concerns that it would be unfair to owners of older vehicles that lack Bluetooth functions, and that it would affect businesses such as Uber and Lyft, which operate via a mobile phone application. It failed to pass.

Will Nampa adopt a ban?

Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling is asking residents to weigh in on a poll on Facebook and Nextdoor about implenting a ban on cellphones when driving, but she did not commit to passing one.

“We look forward to watching Meridian’s rollout of the ban,” she said.

Nampa City Councilman Victor Rodriguez said he is in favor of an ordinance like Meridian’s. “As a retired law enforcement officer, I’d be in support” of one, he said.

Councilman Rick Hogaboam came out against an ordinance, arguing that current laws governing inattentive driving are sufficient. He said he’d rather focus the city’s efforts on educating people about the dangers of distracted driving.

“If the issue is having both hands on wheel at all times, I trust police using existing provisions on whether someone sipping their coffee or grabbing a piece of gum or holding the phone to their ear qualifies under inattentive driving,” he wrote in a text to the Statesman. “I don’t want to specify every single hypothetical scenario and start issuing tickets based on the letter of the law to people who are driving just fine.”

What about other cities?

Boise considered a measure similar to Meridian’s several years ago, but it was never adopted, said Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor David Bieter.

“We do often adopt similar ordinances as neighboring jurisdictions for consistency sake when it makes good sense,” Journee wrote in an email to the Statesman. “At this time, there is not any intent to do so in this case, and we are not aware of any council member intending to bring something like this forward.”

Eagle City Council President Miranda Gold said that body has not discussed such a ban. Kuna City Council President Briana Buban-Vonder Haar said her town also has not brought it up.

“For me, if Kuna’s police chief identified handheld cellphone use while driving as an issue Kuna Police dealt with frequently and suggested banning such use would be beneficial, I’d be open to learning more and considering the request,” she said in an email. “But at this time the council has not been made aware it’s an issue, and therefore it’s not something we’re currently looking at implementing.”

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.