BOISE, Idaho -- After discussing the problem for years, House lawmakers sent "a strong message" Tuesday and banned texting while driving on a 53-17 vote.
Supporters hope the legislation will cut down the growing number of traffic accidents and fatalities that involve texting.
"I believe this year we can leave a lasting legacy for Idaho families," said Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a former Idaho State Police trooper.
The measure defines texting as "engaging in the review, manual preparation or transmission of written communication via hand-held wireless devices." Violations would earn drivers an infraction, but a conviction wouldn't result in any violation points accumulating; nor would it be a moving violation, which would affect their insurance rates.
"We don't want to punish them or have their insurance rates go up," Wills said. "This should be a wake-up call."
Although the legislation applies to all drivers, it's intended primarily to be a deterrence for teens.
"We need to send a strong message that it's wrong to text while driving in Idaho," said Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise.
All of the "no" votes came from Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Paul Shepherd of Riggins and Reps. Shannon McMillan of Silverton.
All other north-central Idaho lawmakers supported the measure.
Since Idaho already has a distracted driving statute, some opponents felt additional legislation wasn't needed. Others felt the bill wouldn't eliminate poor behavior, such as reviewing websites while driving.
The bill was amended in the House to remove an exception for police, fire and emergency medical personnel who texted in the course of their official duties. The amended bill now returns to the Senate for concurrence.
Spence may be contacted at bspencelmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.
(c)2012 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
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