BLACKFOOT – Tuesday evening at the Blackfoot City Council meeting had plans to discuss a topic that polarizes most crowds; using a cell phone while driving. The topic of hands-free cellular use continues to be a hot button item in most communities, but lacks any state oversight on the issue.
Mayor Marc Carroll expressed that the council is exploring the options of creating a city ordinance similar to what Idaho Falls and Pocatello have that would ban the use of cellular devices in the car without the use of a hands-free device such as a bluetooth headset, bluetooth speaker system, or some other form of hands-free connection.
Nate Harrington spoke during the public comment section, asking the council what the purpose of creating a law that he feels would be redundant as there are already laws on the books that are enforceable such as inattentive driving. He also posed the question, "Why punish those that can determine what is an okay time to answer their phones?" Although no response was provided to the question, Harrington finished his minutes at the podium expressing that this feels like Blackfoot is hopping on the bandwagon against cellular devices.
After Harrington took a seat, Mayor Carroll expressed that the goal is to provide the safest environment possible for those in our city.
A second patron spoke to the council expressing that his concern about making this new ordinance is enforcement. "Any law to be a law must be enforceable," he stated. Continuing with explaining that it leaves a lot of open questions in his opinion.
Police Chief Kurt Asmus spoke to the board following the two patrons, expressing that he feels that this would better fit as an infraction rather than putting it in as an ordinance which would make the punishment a misdemeanor. Asmus continued to explain that he does encourage some form of regulation on cell phone use in the vehicles, and feels the city should come to a decision on what the proper course of action should be. Asmus also provided input about eliminating the outliers that still allow mobile phone use in the vehicle needs to be addressed at the state level rather than at each city's discretion. "I think there are other alternatives than going straight to a misdemeanor," Asmus finished with stating.
Scott Gay, the soon-to-be Police Chief upon Asmus' retirement, spoke after the meeting saying that the possibility of creating this law and making it a misdemeanor could cause undue stress on the court system, and with the penalties of being a misdemeanor could land Blackfoot residents in jail over using their cell phones. Gay expressed that there needs to be some middle ground, that the penalty needs to be significant enough to be a hinderance to the masses, while remaining fair enough to those who do break the proposed law. Gay referenced the low fine cost on a seatbelt infraction as not being substantial enough to prevent people from breaking that law as an analog for describing the parameters of a well built traffic law.
After all the discussion from the council, patrons, and police chief, the item has been tabled for further review at the next city council meeting.