Two years after ban, texting while driving still 'happens all the time'

MERIDIAN, Idaho (KBOI) - Tuesday marks two years since Idaho banned texting behind the wheel, and quite a few people are still using their phones on the roads, according to local law enforcement officers.

The Meridian Police Department says it cites 200 to 300 drivers each year, trying to cut down on the number of crashes that hurt and kill people.

On a ride-along that KBOI 2News took with Officer Mitch Tiner of Meridian PD, he was on the lookout for distracted driving, up and down Eagle Road.

"Texting is definitely something we write (citations for) every day," Tiner said. "You see it more than you're able to get to it, just because of traffic, and they might be going the opposite direction of you, but it's definitely something that happens all the time."

KBOI 2News asked Meridian Sgt. John Gonzales if drivers had changed their behavior in the last few years.

"Well, that's a tough question because we still see people texting and driving," he said.

Gonzales said his department is more aggressive in ticketing violators than other law enforcement agencies in the area.

Idaho State Police said statistics for texting while driving weren't available Monday but said troopers haven't written a lot of citations.

"Just the other day, I pulled somebody over, and they said, 'Well, I was reading a text, but I wasn't texting and driving,'" said Nathan Madenford, ISP trooper. "He just didn't understand that reading a text was causing him to drive the way that he was."

As Tiner drives by vehicles, he looks to see what drivers are doing. He spots one with a phone in hand, but she makes a call, which is legal under Idaho law. Another driver, texting at a stop light, puts the phone down when it turns green, which is also legal. Tiner said the vehicle has to be moving for him to issue a ticket.

Officers can cite people not only for texting behind the wheel but also for checking Facebook, tweets, emails and other things on their phones.

The city of Meridian had a texting ban in place a few years before the state did after a young woman died in a crash while she was texting on Eagle Road. The fine for a citation is $81.50, but police say it's the human cost that matters.