Sunday, January 17, 2010

Texting While Driving Issue A Hot Item for Sandpoint City Council

I remember it vividly. It was two and a half years ago when newscasts around the country flashed pictures of five young women, ages 17 and 18, who were killed in a car accident in New York.

Their vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic and cell phone records indicated that in all likelihood the driver was sending text messages while driving. The nationwide reaction was one of horror. Texting was a new way of communication then, especially among teens. How could people even think of engaging in such a distracting activity while behind the wheel?

Since then texting has became increasingly popular. Teens memorize keypads the way we adults used to memorize the keyboard of a typewriter. Over time, the images of these beautiful young women robbed of a full life faded away, and unfortunately so did much of the caution involved with texting while driving. Now each day I witness people driving while looking down at what I presume is their phone.

As my oldest son started driver’s education this week, I found myself reiterating what I have told him all along – absolutely under no circumstances should he ever use his phone while driving.

A ban on texting while driving currently exists in 19 states as well as in the District of Columbia and Guam. Six states have laws prohibiting local jurisdictions from enacting such laws, instead leaving it up to the state government to do so. Idaho has neither.

Banning texting while driving has been a hot issue for the Sandpoint City Council. Early last month, the council voted 4-3 against enacting an ordinance requiring all drivers, bicyclists and skateboards to use a hands-free device when talking on a cell phone while driving or riding within the Sandpoint city limits. The proposed ordinance also included a ban on texting while engaged in these activities. Mayor Gretchen Hellar cast the deciding votes against enactment.

Outgoing city Councilwoman Helen Newton’s proposal was made as a safety measure. It made sense. Those who voted against the proposed ordinance cited the primary reason for their opposition was the difficulty in enforcement and the ability of law enforcement to ticket texting drivers under the existing inattentive driving law.

Following the 4-3 defeat, Councilman John O’Hara brought a different version to the council. The revised proposal imposed a ban on text messaging while driving and prohibited any cell phone use by drivers who were driving with only a learner’s permit or if they’re under instruction.

But just a day before the ordinance was to take effect, Hellar vetoed the ordinance, once again citing issues of enforceability and the fact that there were already laws in place allowing the Sandpoint Police Department to cite a driver for inattentive driving.

There have been many reactions, both positive and negative, to the recent veto by Hellar, and there is talk that this will be brought up again when the new council is sworn in next week.

Newly elected city Councilman Justin Schuck said he is reserving judgment on the issue.

“If council decides to take a position on the veto, I look forward to discussing the issue with full council and considering the opinions of the public during the public hearing,” said Schuck. “Recently, (Councilwoman) Carrie Logan has provided a great deal of research on the issue that might shed some new light.”

Opponents of the ban cite issues of a city seeking to micromanage their residents. Those in favor of an ordinance cannot understand why people would not want such a law enacted. After all, it goes to the very safety of the community.

I agree texting while driving is dangerous. But I also believe that the difficulty of enforcement could be a logistical nightmare.

Perhaps it is time for those passionate about a ban to stop wasting time at the local level and instead bring this to Boise where their time and energy could potentially protect 1.5 million citizens instead of 6,000. And let’s do it before Sandpoint or another town in Idaho is the lead story on national news due to tragic deaths that are a result of texting while driving.

1 comment:

  1. 80% percent of all rear end collisions (the most frequent vehicle accident) are caused by driver inattention, following too closely, external distraction (talking on cell phones, shaving, applying makeup, fiddling with the radio or CD player, texting, etc.) and poor judgment. I doubt if we'll ever stop the madness so I got one of these