Printed on: July 03, 2013

A year later, texting law draws mixed reviews

By SAMUEL HOWARD
showard@postregister.com

Tre Lewis conceded that he felt invincible when he received his driver's license.

But looking back on it today, the 19-year-old winces and shakes his head.

"Most teens get their licenses and think they can do whatever they want," he said. "... Just after I got my license, I thought I could text and drive. I almost got into an accident and ever since, I've always kept my phone away."

Even without such a distraction, Lewis said he has his hands full.

But it's not his own driving ability that he's worried about. It's everyone else's.

Despite Idaho's year-old law banning texting while driving, Lewis said he still sees drivers punching keys while behind the wheel.

"The point of driving is to have your eyes on the road, so I don't touch my phone," he said. "... I see a lot of people texting and driving."

Since the law took effect July 1, 2012, 16 drivers in Bonneville County had been cited through June 18, according to county records. In the first full year of the law's enforcement, Idaho State Police officers issued 66 texting while driving citations statewide, State Police Sgt. Scott Zaugg said.

A violation results in an $81.50 fine, including court fees.

Those who text and drive certainly are out there, but ISP Lt. Chris Weadick said officers sometimes struggle to catch them in the act. That may be due, at least in part, to the way the law was written.

"(The law) is at times very hard to enforce because it is very specific in that it has to be a form of texting," Weadick said.

So, if drivers aren't sending or receiving written communications on their phones, they can't be cited.

The law also doesn't ban the use of hands-free devices to send these messages.

And just because a driver looks down doesn't mean he or she is sending or reading a text message.

But the number of citations issued -- or not issued -- isn't the best measure of the law's success, Weadick said.

"There is at least the law in the books and it ... gets the motoring public to not buy into the problem and buy into the solution, and that means putting your phone down," he said.

Although it's difficult to enforce, the law still sends a strong message to drivers, Idaho Falls Police Department traffic officer Paul Murray said. Slowly but surely, he said, texting behind the wheel is declining.

"Now that we actually have (the law) in place, it bears a factor in the minds of everyday drivers that (a crash) could happen," Murray said.

The law is a first step on a long road toward changing the mindset of Idaho drivers, Weadick said.

"I think we are off to a good start by at least recognizing we have a problem and that we need to come up with a solution," he said.

In the past year alone, Weadick said his office has heard from more motorists than ever who are fed up with texters.

From where motorist Lewis sits, one can't be too careful. He's keeping his phone tucked away and his eyes focused on the road ahead. And he hopes other drivers do the same.

"If I am going to prevent (an accident), I will," he said. "I won't be focused on a stupid little electronic device."

Reporter Samuel Howard can be reached at 542-6746.