BOISE – Idaho lawmakers concerned about road safety have introduced bills that would ban texting while driving, penalize people who drive carelessly around bicyclists and punish rash cyclists who speed through crosswalks.
The bills, introduced Thursday in the Senate Transportation Committee, were prompted by studies that showed the increased risks drivers face while texting and by at least four fatal biking accidents that happened in southern Idaho last year.
Sen. John McGee’s bill would make texting while driving a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $300 fine. McGee told the committee lawmakers need to crack down on a “deadly practice” that he compares to driving while drunk.
“Texting while driving has become such an issue and so dangerous that it deserves to be singled out as a behavior that is unacceptable,” he said.
University of Utah researchers published a study last year that concluded texting while driving increases crash risk. Virginia Tech researchers found the risk increased 23-fold.
Earlier this month, authorities in Georgia who charged a woman with vehicular homicide said she was texting when she struck and killed a pedestrian last year.
Such incidents have prompted states including Idaho neighbor Washington to pass laws banning texting behind the wheel, while Wyoming, South Carolina and Iowa are among those that are now considering similar prohibitions.
McGee, R-Caldwell, is proposing people who violate the texting ban face the same penalties as those who violate Idaho’s existing misdemeanor inattentive driving law: up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
Boise Democrat Sen. Elliot Werk is tackling drivers’ behavior around bicyclists, saying three fatal biking accidents in his city last year and one in Twin Falls prompted his bills.
In at least one of the fatalities in Boise, a 16-year-old driver was charged in juvenile court with vehicular manslaughter after accidentally killing a local racer. In another case, Boise Police recommended against filing charges against a 21-year-old man whose car killed a 62-year-old cyclist, after deciding the cyclist was crossing the street inappropriately.
One bill would also make threatening a bicyclist a misdemeanor, while another punishes drivers who veer within three feet of a person on a bicycle.
Werk, whose measures would carry with them a $75 fine, said he wants to make bikers practice safer road habits, so he’s going after inconsiderate two-wheelers who hold up cars or recklessly enter roads.
One bill also bans bikes without brakes, something commonly found on fixed-gear urban bicycles styled after those used by messengers in big cities.
“The important thing to me is, we have a fair and balanced approach to the use of the road,” Werk said.
The Senate Transportation Committee is due to hold full hearings on the measures in coming weeks.