Idaho's Distracted Driving Laws: Your Guide | Trusted Choice

Idaho Distracted Driving

A Guide to Idaho's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting)

Jessica Huneck | February 24, 2020
Idaho distracted driving laws

There are roughly 25,000 car accidents every year in Idaho. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

The state of Idaho defines distracted driving as “anything that diverts your attention away from focusing on driving. This includes electronic distractions as well as interacting with passengers.”

While some distractions may be penalized under Idaho’s inattentive driving laws, the state’s distracted driving laws focus mostly on the use of cell phones while driving, but that's only a small piece of a much bigger distraction puzzle.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Idaho

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Idaho:

  • In 2017, 4,808 car accidents in this state were attributed to distracted driving.
  • Of these, 425 resulted in serious injuries, and 51 resulted in fatalities.
  • Distracted driving accidents made up 18.6% of all accidents in this state in 2017.
  • This is a drop from 2015, when distracted driving was responsible for 22.8% of all accidents.
  • The economic cost of crashes involving distracted driving in Idaho was more than $820 million in 2017.

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Idaho

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Idaho

A University of Utah study found that your odds of getting into an accident while using your cell phone are just as high as your odds while driving drunk, but few people see it for the hazard it is. It's little wonder, then, that distracted driving causes more accidents in this state than drunk driving.

Does Idaho Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

Currently, the state of Idaho prohibits sending or receiving text messages while driving.

Handheld cell phone use is still permitted, but not in the following locations, each of which has passed hands-free legislation:

  • Blaine County
  • Ketchum
  • Hailey
  • Sandpoint
  • Pocatello
  • Idaho Falls

But Idaho as a state has what's called an inattentive driving law. The state defines inattentive driving as “driving in a manner that is inattentive, careless or imprudent rather than heedless or wanton, or in those cases where the danger to persons or property by the motor vehicle operator’s conduct is slight.”

Inattentive driving can include engaging in a number of distractions like arguing with other passengers, touching up the day's makeup, or reaching for an item dropped on the floor. 

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Idaho?

Yes.

In Idaho, the following exceptions apply:

  • GPS use is permitted.
  • Voice-operated, hands-free texting is permitted. If used, the driver may touch the phone only to activate, deactivate, or initiate the feature or function.

Idaho Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes             No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                X               
Is handheld device use permitted?                X
Any special restriction for young drivers?
                X
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                X               

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Idaho?

Yes. And no.

There is no law in Idaho that specifically says that you cannot eat while driving. But again, there are laws against inattentive driving.

So, what happens if a police officer in Idaho spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the road? That depends mostly on the officer and on how you're driving.

If a blob of mustard falls on your lap and you swerve, or if you slam on the brakes because you missed seeing a stop sign while reaching for a fry, you might be pulled over and cited for inattentive driving.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’d probably be better off eating your cheeseburger indoors or in the parking lot.

What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Idaho uses primary enforcement.

This means that if a police officer sees you texting while behind the wheel, they can pull you over and write up a citation, even if you have been maintaining full control of your vehicle.

What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Idaho?

The fines for distracted driving are as follows:

  • For texting while driving, the fine is $85 for each offense.
  • For inattentive driving you can face fines up to $300 with the possibility of up to 90 days in jail.
  • For causing injury to another while using a cell phone, you can face reckless driving charges and be fined up to $10,000 and face up to 10 years in prison.

In the cities that have hands-free laws, fines for using a handheld cell phone can vary but average about $100.

Idaho compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

As you can see, lawmakers in most states have taken action to outlaw texting while driving. As time goes on, most of the remaining states are expected to follow suit.

Does Distracted Driving in Idaho Increase Insurance Rates?

In Idaho, texting while driving is not considered a moving violation and it doesn't add points to your license. Because of this, it's likely that your insurance company won't be made aware of the infraction, and your rates probably won't go up.

However, inattentive driving is a misdemeanor and does add points. This means if you're cited for inattentive driving, due to any number of potential distractions, your car insurance rates will most likely increase.

Basically, if you want to keep your car insurance rates affordable, you’re better off setting your phone and other distractions aside until you reach your destination.

What If I Drive into Oregon or Montana?

You may be wondering about how the law affects you if you drive across the border into another state where distracted driving laws may be different.

A number of Idaho's neighboring states have tougher restrictions on cell phone use. Oregon and Washington ban handheld devices and have extra restrictions for young drivers. 

Montana allows drivers to use cell phones and send text messages while behind the wheel. Of course, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

As a driver, you're required to adhere to the laws of any state in which you happen to be driving. Laws are constantly being updated to reduce the number of accidents, so be sure to review and familiarize yourself with the laws of the states you will be driving through prior to taking a road trip.

What Is Idaho Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Lawmakers in Idaho have come close to passing laws against the use of cell phones, but so far have come up unsuccessful. However, the fight goes on, led by State Senator Jim Rice.

In the meantime, the Idaho Transportation Department Office of Highway Safety sponsors the “Put it Down” campaign to encourage young drivers not to use their cell phones while behind the wheel, and the Idaho School Distracted Driving program, which provides schools with the tools and resources necessary to implement education about the hazards of distracted driving.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

Now, who's ready to get their insurance problems solved?