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Surfing The Web Behind The Wheel Scorned, But Not Explicitly Criminalized

Intel Free Press
Flickr -

If you spend any time on the road, you've no doubt noticed erratic or dangerous driving by people using mobile phones behind the wheel. But ongoing efforts in Idaho and Washington state to tighten the rules on cell phone use while driving are stalling out.

All Pacific Northwest states ban texting while driving. Talking into a hand-held cellphone is also against the law regionally, except in Idaho. Michael Kane, a lobbyist for AAA of Idaho, asked Idaho senators Thursday to ban use of cell phones while driving.

"What we have presented to you is a proposed baby step on the issue of distracted driving, which kills approximately 40 to 50 Idahoans a year,” Kane said.

But Kane got no traction, in part because his proposal comes late in the legislative session. State Senator Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, objected to the bill being introduced, which led the Senate Transportation Committee to set it aside.

Meanwhile in Olympia, some legislators want to expand Washington’s law to get drivers to put down their smartphones, period -- and stop using Facebook and Instagram, or tapping in addresses for directions.

But that’s run into opposition from other lawmakers who question the wisdom of legislating against fast-changing technology.

In Salem, lawmakers updated Oregon's driving law in 2013. It's now framed broadly to ban using a mobile phone while driving except in emergencies or when paired with a hands-free accessory.

A spokesman for the Washington State Patrol said troopers can write a ticket for a related violation if it's hard to see what a driver was doing on their mobile phone.

"Not staying in your lane of travel would apply, driving off the road. We've also got negligent driving in the second degree," Sergeant Paul Cagle said. "We're certainly not helpless."

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.