Meridian Police Chief asks city council to ban all cell phone usage while driving

Posted at 10:26 PM, Sep 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-25 00:26:19-04

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Drivers be aware, Meridian could be the next Idaho city, and first in the Treasure Valley to pass an ordinance banning handheld cell phone usage while driving.

In a Meridian City Council meeting Tuesday, Meridian Police Chief, Jeff Lavey, said he believes laws regarding cell phone usage while driving aren’t restrictive enough.

Chief Lavey said that even if an officer sees you using your cell phone while driving, they can’t pull you over, so he’s working to change that.

“People seem to think that they’re a good safe driver and that they’re not getting into trouble, and I would argue that you’re not a safe driver, you’re a lucky driver,” said Chief Jeff Lavey with the Meridian Police Department.

Chief Lavey said 198 citations were written last year due to people texting while driving, but texting while driving isn’t the only thing to blame.

“In this current law, there’s a lot of exceptions that allows people to have their phones in their hands. So many exceptions that it’s really difficult for us to prove in fact what that person was actually doing while on the phone,” said Lavey.

And for those under the impression that there are already state laws which cover this type of behavior, a bill forbidding cell phone usage was killed in the 2019 Legislative Session, leaving gray area and concerns for police agencies statewide, and leaving some leeway for people who use their devices while driving.

“All the laws that are on the books are problematic, um, they work for a specific thing,” said Lavey.

Currently in Idaho there is a law regarding reckless driving for those drivers who are driving at a speed or manner that endangers people or property.

“That’s a misdemeanor, you’ve got to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Lavey.

There is also a law regarding inattentive driving.

“Under the courts, and the way it’s ruled, inattentive driving is really after the fact. You crash your car, and the reason you crashed your car is you weren’t paying attention, therefore you get a ticket,” said Lavey.

Chief Lavey said the Meridian Police Department would like to prevent those accidents before they happen, which would involve pulling over drivers who are using their cell phones.

“You would not be able to be on the phone except for activating a hands-free device, turning off a hands-free device, or in the case of emergency,” said Lavey.

And if you’re caught using the device for other reasons, it would result in an infraction, which Lavey said would not clog up the court system and would not have as high of points on a driving record.

“This isn’t about making money, this is about people doing the right thing,” said Lavey.

Chief Lavey said there are a handful of other cities throughout Idaho who have successfully implemented an ordinance similar to this, and Meridian hopes to model this ordinance after those cities.

Tuesday was the first reading and public hearing of the proposed ordinance, and the Meridian City Council voted to continue the discussion on October 8th, 2019.