East Idaho lawmaker wants to end local bans on using cellphones while driving

January 23, 2019
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BOISE — A Bonneville County lawmaker is working on a bill to override local ordinances such as the ones that recently passed in Idaho Falls and Pocatello banning the use of a handheld cellphone while driving.

“We already have a state law in place, inattentive driving,” said Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon. “It’s already on the books.”

Christensen presented a draft of the bill to the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday afternoon. The committee voted to return it to him to clean up some issues with the language, with Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, volunteering to help him.

Christensen was elected to the District 32B House seat last year and represents eastern Bonneville plus Teton, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida and Bear Lake counties. He said people who can talk on a cellphone and still drive responsibly shouldn’t be penalized because some people can’t. Also, he said, “there are too many laws on the books.”

“We don’t need a law for every single behavior,” he said.

Christensen said he isn’t looking to change the existing statewide ban on texting while driving.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, who is on the committee along with Christensen, said Idaho Falls’ cellphone-while-driving ban was “the number one issue I got calls over the summer from my constituents in Idaho Falls about.”

“Kudos to Rep. Chad Christensen for bringing a bill ... to stop the patchwork of unnecessary cellphone regulations,” Zollinger tweeted shortly after the hearing. “Looking forward to supporting his efforts.”

While a state law that passed in 2012 bans texting while driving, it doesn’t apply to other uses of a cellphone and is little enforced. A few cities in Blaine County were the first to ban talking on a handheld cellphone while driving, followed by a countywide ban there a couple of years ago. Last year, eastern Idaho’s biggest cities followed suit, starting with a ban in Idaho Falls and followed by Pocatello. Blackfoot officials also have discussed the idea.

Supporters view the cellphone bans as a safety issue, pointing to the number of crashes that are connected to texting or talking on a cellphone while driving. Opponents often view these bans as government overreach. And both supporters of a statewide ban and opponents of local ones have argued the law should be the same throughout Idaho and not vary from city to city.

A proposal to ban using a handheld cellphone while driving statewide was voted down by the state Senate last year.

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