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Idaho Falls recent ban of cell phone use while driving prompting other communities to do the same

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POCATELLO — Requiring drivers to put their phones down is becoming a trend across eastern Idaho.

The Pocatello City Council approved a new ‘hands-free’ ordinance during Thursday’s city council meeting. Blackfoot is now considering its own ‘hands-free’ ordinance as well.

“Being focused on the road is the best way to prevent a crash. We all too often hear about crashes where someone was distracted by their phone and this ordinance firmly says that the City of Pocatello takes the issue of distracted driving very seriously,” Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad said in a news release.

Pocatello’s ordinance will go into effect Wednesday, Dec. 12. Violators face an $80 fine for the first three offenses. A fourth offense within two years constitutes a misdemeanor. Meaning the offender could face up to a year in prison.

Blackfoot’s hands-free ordinance was proposed during Thursday’s city council meeting. Blackfoot city councilman Chris Jensen said it was brought up because of Pocatello and Idaho Falls adopting hands-free ordinances.

RELATED: Cell phone use while driving now banned in Idaho Falls

“We’ll get it set up in ordinance format and take a look at it. See if it’s something we want to do,” Jensen said.

The Idaho Falls city council approved the ordinance on Oct. 11 and has since gone into effect. The city council set infractions at $100 for the 1st offense, $200 for the second and a misdemeanor for the 3rd in a two year period.

Rexburg is one of eastern Idaho’s cities that doesn’t seem to be jumping on the bandwagon.

“If it comes up then we’ll discuss it,” Rexburg city councilman Chris Mann said. “I haven’t heard any groundswell of either negativity or support.”

Mann went on to explain Rexburg was one of the first cities in Idaho to adopt a ban on texting while driving.

“That applies not only to (drivers) but also to pedestrians. It’s actually against the law to text and cross the sidewalk at the same time in Rexburg,” Mann said.

The equal application of the law is what has Jensen concerned about the possibility of Blackfoot adopting the hands-free ordinance.

“I quite often see our police officers (speaking on their cell phones while driving). A lot of times it’s in the actual fulfillment of their duties as a police officer. But if they’re doing it and people around town see that they’re going to say ‘well how come they can do it and we can’t?'” Jensen said.

Another of his concerns is so far only cities have adopted hands-free ordinances and none of the counties. He said someone could begin a phone call in Bingham County and not break any laws. However, as soon as they are in city limits they would be in violation and could face a citation.

“If it’s going to be done it really needs to be done statewide and I really don’t think it should be the city’s doing it,” Jensen said.

But Idaho Falls City Councilman James Freeman says Blaine County has an ordinance.

During the October city council meeting, Idaho Falls City Councilman Thomas Hally called cell phone use while driving “a plague.”

According to a news release, the Pocatello Police Department noted texting or cell phone use in around 33 percent of inattentive driving citations.

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