Twin Falls became the first city in the state to ban texting while driving earlier this month after the Idaho Legislature couldn’t work out a compromise on a ban of its own that would have banned the practice statewide.
It looks as if Meridian will join Twin Falls in attempting to curb the practice. Members of the Meridian City Council are slated to discuss the issue Tuesday at a regularly-scheduled board meeting.
The discussion comes on the heels of the release of a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that showed that three of four states that approved bans in the past year saw slight increases in collisions in months following enactment. The report also showed that 45 percent of drivers in states with bans admitted to texting while driving, while 48 percent of drivers in states without bans admitted to the practice.
Tracy Basterrechea, deputy police chief for the city, says that Meridian is going to work to ban texting behind the wheel because the Idaho Legislature failed to do so in the 2010 session. Basterrecha says that the IIHS study results are inconclusive because data was derived from 12 months of monitoring by the group, a time frame the deputy chief sees as insufficient. “That won’t necessarily provide an accurate depiction of what’s happening,” Basterrecha told IdahoReporter.com.
He says that the effort to ban the practice in Meridian is based on data collected by his department that shows increases in texting-related collisions. Some opponents of bans around the country argue that governments shouldn’t be regulating behavior that isn’t harmful to others. Basterrecha rejects that idea. “If we went by that logic, we wouldn’t have laws against driving under the influence,” he explained. He said that because texting while driving can cause deaths, governments must move in to protect residents. “If you have someone crashing through your back window because they were texting while driving, then you wouldn’t argue that it’s not harmful to others,” said the deputy chief.
In rejecting the findings of the IIHS study, Basterrecha pointed to a report released in September that showed that between 2001 and 2007 that texting behind the wheel was responsible for more than 16,000 deaths. Researchers in that study found distinct correlations between increases in cell phone ownership, texting amounts reported by cell phone companies, and deaths resulting from distracted driving.
The decision Tuesday at the council’s meeting likely won’t be based on policy alone. Inlate December of 2009, a Meridian woman lost her life while texting behind the wheel. Basterrechea told the Idaho Statesman Monday that the investigation into the accident affected everyone involved. The family of the teen who lost her life wants a texting ban in the city to be her legacy, to keep other families from facing the same hardship.
The Idaho Legislature killed two texting bans earlier this year in-part because lawmakers felt that police officers would have difficulty enforcing the law. A Meridian legislator, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, said on the House floor that officers would be unable to tell if a driver was using a phone to dial a number or send a text message.
Basterrechea did not explain how his department would enforce the ban if approved by the council. If given the OK, texting behind the wheel would be illegal in Meridian as soon as Nov. 1.