Last week, the city of Ketchum took a significant step forward toward approving a law would ban drivers from using their cell phones. While the law hasn't been approved quite yet, it's possible that it could take affect next month.
It's a law the state should seriously consider adopting.
In 2012, the state passed a law that's supposed to keep drivers from texting or checking their smart phones while behind the wheel. While it was a smart move, it's a tough law to enforce.
The problem comes down to this: Law enforcement officers have to determine whether the driver was actually writing or reading something on their smart device, which violates the law. A driver could simply tell a judge they were using their device to make a phone call, which is permitted in this state.
Based on the amount of chatter that comes across the police scanner located six feet from my desk, it's clear that drivers struggle to stay on the road while using their cell phone. I've lost count over the years how many calls come across the scanner regarding a vehicle swerving across the interstate.
In a number of cases, I'd wager good money these drivers were too busy using their phones versus concentrating on what they should be doing -- paying attention to the road. What really gets scary is when the driver is behind the wheel of a semi rig pulling one, two or three trailers.
This is why I cringe every time I pass a semi on the interstate. I'm always worried the driver will suddenly swerve in front of me because he suddenly needs to take a phone call or, even worse, has some need to update their Facebook status.
But don't expect our legislature to take up a state-wide cell phone ban anytime soon. Last month, the state Senate Transportation Committee voted against a plan to introduce this legislation, which is backed by AAA of Idaho and the American Insurance Association.
The lawmakers argued that the proposed law got to them too late for this current session. However, I must give credit to Senator Bert Brackett (who represents our district) for trying to get the measure added to the agenda despite the tardiness.
I suppose our state lawmakers are just too busy dealing with more "important" issues. Among them was a bill that would make Islamic Sharia law illegal in this state, which appears to be a solution in need of a problem that doesn't exist.
Let's not forget all the work they're investing in a bill that would allow women to receive ultrasounds before they undergo an abortion. While the legislature might think this is important -- after all, they want to protect the rights of the unborn -- you would think that safeguarding the lives of all motorists on our state roads would take priority.
Don't expect this cell phone bill to gain -- pardon the pun -- any traction anytime soon. It took our state lawmakers nearly four years to get a law on the books to ban people from texting while driving. I can only imagine how long it'll take before our legislature gets serious about this issue.
According to AAA Idaho, people using their cell phone while driving account for 40 to 50 deaths in this state each year. How many more Idahoans killed or injured in these types of crashes will it take before our lawmakers get with the program?
Currently, there are 14 states and four U.S. territories that prohibit people from driving while using a hand-held cell phone. Meanwhile, there are laws on the books in 37 states and the District of Columbia that prohibit teen and novice drivers from using these handheld devices while behind the wheel.
Bans on texting while driving are far more common and now include 46 states and some U.S. territories.
Here's something to consider: Before we had cell phones, we had to find a phone booth or wait until we got somewhere before making a call. Today, the "electronic umbilical cord" that we call a cell phone makes it far to easy for us to dial a number and chat with our family and friends on what are normally day-to-day issues.
If each call involved a life-or-death situation, maybe I wouldn't be so concerned about this law. But statistically, what we do with our handheld devices is a mere convenience that somehow makes our lives a lot simpler.
There are only a few rare instances where talking on that phone is more important than keeping it where it belongs -- out of hand's reach until we've stopped somewhere and can make that call or check our social media status safely.
I would hope our lawmakers would understand the importance of introducing this type of legislation during this session. But I'm not holding my breath, either.
-- Brian S. Orban