Chiefs

From left to right, Idaho police chiefs Jeff Troumbley of Filer, Roger Schei of Pocatello, Jeff Lavey of Meridian and Budd Hurd of Lewiston at the Idaho Capitol. The Idaho Chiefs of Police Association voted recently to back a hands-free law for drivers. The police chiefs attended a Senate committee meeting where the bill was introduced.

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Police chiefs from across the state of Idaho joined with insurance interests, motorcycle groups, Sen. Chuck Winder and more today to back a new statewide handsfree law for drivers. The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill, which was proposed by United Heritage Insurance with Winder as its lead sponsor. Co-sponsors include Sens. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; David Nelson, D-Moscow; Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; and Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise. You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Friday's edition of the Idaho Press.

"This deals simply with the hand-held device," Winder said after the committee's vote, which clears the way for a full hearing on the bill. The measure doesn't address other issues including eating, grooming or dogs in cars. "It's hopefully a little bit simpler to get support for and to get it passed," he said.

Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei said, "Our whole purpose of law enforcement is protection of human life," and distracted drivers holding phones are among the biggest risks to that now in Idaho, he said.

Jeff Neumeyer of United Heritage Insurance told the committee that the bill would require "that mobile electronic devices are to be used only in a handsfree mode while driving," with certain exceptions including emergency responders. Violations would be an infraction, with a $75 fine for a first offense, rising to $150 for a second offense within three years, and $300 for a third. A first offense wouldn't count for violation points against a driver, but subsequent offenses would.

Neumeyer said polls show more than 80 percent of Idahoans support such a law, which he called "a clear, straight-forward and enforceable hands-free law." Twenty other states already have passed such laws, he said.

The statewide law, if passed, would pre-empt local ordinances in Idaho Falls, Sandpoint, Hailey, Ketchum, Blaine County, Pocatello and Meridian, but it was written to mesh with those local ordinances to continue protecting drivers in those localities, Neumeyer said.

Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey, who supports Winder's bill, said, "If we're going to lose local control, we need to have a state law that's working." The local ordinances are improving safety for residents, he said. "We don't want to give that up."

Lane Triplett of the Idaho Coalition for Motorcycle Safety said motorcycle groups in Idaho also are supporting Winder's bill. "We want a handsfree law statewide," he said. "We're pretty vulnerable out there -- we're not easily seen. We have enough problems without someone being distracted by use of a device that endangers us."

Neumeyer said Idaho sees thousands of accidents a year due to drivers distracted by their hand-held devices, with some causing injuries or deaths.

Earlier, House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, introduced his own distracted driving bill, but it also covered drivers distracted by eating, grooming or other issues while nullifying all existing local handsfree ordinances and banning future ones. Palmer introduced a slightly amended version of his bill earlier this week.

Editor's note: Roger Schei is the police chief in Pocatello. The original version of this story listed the incorrect city.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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