Make Idaho hands-free in 2021

cell phone is hands free mode while driving

This week marks the end of what has been a memorable year for all Idahoans. While 2020 has taught us many new terms like “mask up” and “social distancing” there is one phrase we’d like you to keep in mind for 2021 “hands-free Idaho.”    

That’s because beginning Jan. 1, police across Idaho will begin issuing citations for drivers using a handheld device. The law took effect in July of this year after passing through the Idaho legislature in the spring 

This change will affect drivers across Idaho. Here are three things you need to know about the changes: 

Police have been enforcing the law for nearly six months now 

Yes, police will begin to issue citations on Jan1, but they have been enforcing the new law since July. Police have been able to enforce the law since the beginning by stopping distracted drivers. However, until now, violators who have been stopped were let off with a warning. Beginning Jan. 1, violators can be issued a fine starting at $75 and going as high as $300 for multiple offenses during a three year period. 

This law replaces any local hands-free ordinances 

Over the last several years, a patchwork of cities and counties have passed hands-free driving ordinances at the local level. This caused some confusion for drivers as they went from one jurisdiction to the next. Idaho’s hands-free law preempts all local ordinances meaning no matter where you drive in Idaho, the expectation is for you to be hands-free. 

The law even applies at stop signs and traffic signals 

This new law requires drivers to put away electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway. This includes while temporarily stopped at a traffic signal or a stop sign.  

Hands-free driving is not risk-free driving. Drivers will still have to contend with other forms of distractions, but putting the phone away will help motorists be better prepared for whatever lies ahead on the road. 

ITD crews make emergency repairs to ID-45 as large number of potholes form

Four men on highway with jackhammers

Idaho Transportation Department crews are completing emergency repairs to a section of Idaho Highway 45 after numerous potholes formed on the roadway.

Potholes continue to form between Deer Flat Road and Melba Road, an eight-mile stretch of ID-45. The damage is caused by water seeping under the surface, freezing – which pushes the pavement up – and thawing, leaving a void.

track hoe on highway
Crews excavate damaged pavement in preparation for a cold patch

The voided pavement then collapses under the weight of traffic.

The emergency repairs involve removing asphalt and debris from the hole, cutting out the damaged pavement, and filling the hole with an asphalt material designed for use during cold temperatures. Crews will close one lane of ID-45, controlling traffic with flaggers. Motorists should drive engaged and anticipate delays of no more than 15 minutes. Repair work is expected to take up to two or three days.

“We’ve been patching this section of highway to keep it together,” said Camilo Serrano, the ITD Maintenance Foreman for the area. “With the rain and snow we got, and temperatures dropping then warming up again, we’re seeing a lot of potholes forming. I’m hoping these patches will stick through the winter until we can come back in the spring with better repairs.”

This cold patch material is not as strong as typical asphalt and will only work for a short time. Normal asphalt is unavailable currently as no nearby asphalt mixing plant is operational this time of year due to seasonal conditions. ITD is developing a plan to complete longer-lasting repairs in the spring. The fix will be similar to the operation in 2017 to repair I-84 after many potholes formed during that year’s severe winter.

The Department has previously budgeted for major rehabilitation of the pavement from the Junction of ID-78 to Deer Flat Road, scheduled for 2025. The springtime repairs will be designed with the intent to keep the roadway in an acceptable condition until that time.

New weather station to forecast avalanche hazard on US-12

An avalanche hasn’t reached US-12 east of Kooskia since 2008, but another weather station placed in the corridor this fall will help staff experts better forecast when the next one could happen.

“You can’t just come up with a cookbook formula for avalanches,” said Bill Nicholson, the leader of ITD’s Avalanche Crew that was formed in 2000. “There are infinite number of variables. We evaluate the strength of the snow that’s on the ground and then evaluate the incoming stressors like rain, wind, snow and temperature fluctuations.”

The new station, placed at 3,639 feet, will collect information on such stressors every hour to be analyzed by the team in Lowman. The team mainly spends their time monitoring Idaho Highway 21 between Lowman and Stanley, which is nationally ranked as one of the most avalanche-prone highways and sees 20 to 50 avalanches reach the pavement each year.

Over the last decade US-12 has been closed fewer than ten times due to a considerable hazard and has a return interval of every five or ten years.

“That’s a hard number to understand,” Nicholson said. “There’s no guarantee that you will have an avalanche in that time frame. You could have two avalanches in one year, or you could have no avalanches for several years.”

Still Nicholson’s team will visit the region to maintain the stations at Powell and Bald Mountain and travel to the pass to be on standby during extreme weather events.

The steep slopes from milepost 125 to 138 are the most concerning, with gates installed at the zone’s edges. Each fall Nicholson leads training on avalanche beacons and protocol for closing the highway for Foreman Mark Schuster and his crew.

“Every operator wears a beacon that transmits his or her location while on duty,” Schuster said. “In the event that an employee gets caught in an avalanche, others will be able to use their own beacons to find them, even buried in 50 feet of snow.”

With data from the weather stations—and the one that will be installed next year at Castle Butte—experts aim to better forecast when it is time to close the highway.

Operation Safe Holiday: don’t drive impaired  

holiday truck

The holidays are here and while celebrations may look different this year, keeping our communities safe remains a top priority. That is why law enforcement agencies are working together to keep impaired drivers off Idaho roads. 

The ITD Office of Highway Safety (OHS) is partnering with 53 law enforcement agencies statewide to increase impaired-driving enforcement and education from Dec. 11 to Jan. 3, 2021, surrounding the holiday season. The statewide campaign is part of the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over mobilization. 

“Increased messaging at both the state and national level on the dangers of impaired driving, combined with increased enforcement, is part of a joint effort to prevent DUI related crashes,” said OHS Grants Officer Lisa Losness. 

In 2019 there were 238 impaired driving crashes that resulted in fatalities and suspected serious injuries, an increase of 27% from 2018. Last year 6% of all crashes involved impaired driving but resulted in 44% of all crash-related fatalities.   

“The consequences of driving impaired tend to be severe,” said OHS Manager John Tomlinson. “It is a serious crime that puts Idahoans at risk every single day, and it is absolutely preventable.”  

The consequences of a single DUI conviction for a first-time offender in Idaho can include costly fines, court costs, legal fees, jail time, and license suspension. 

“We ask all Idahoans to please drive safely this holiday season,” reiterated Tomlinson. “We want everyone to make it home safely, so please designate a sober driver.” 

What can you do?  

  • Plan your safe ride home before you leave 
  • If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel  
  • If you drink, do not drive. Call a taxi, a ride-share service, or a sober friend 
  • Always buckle up – it’s your best defense against impaired drivers 

If you see an impaired driver on the road, call *477(*ISP) or call 911. Your actions could help save someone’s life. 

Funding for extra traffic patrols is provided by a grant from OHS through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Idaho Ready: What you need to know about the chain up law

In extreme winter weather, chains can be a helpful tool to keep you safe while driving on slushy or snow covered roads. But are they required in Idaho?

Idaho’s chain up law does not apply to most drivers on the road, or even most places you drive.

The law only applies to commercial vehicles over 26,000 pounds on mountain passes, most notably on I-90 east of Coeur d’Alene and on US-12 at the Montana border.

This can be confusing, as chain laws vary by state. Neighboring states, like Washington, may require passenger vehicles without AWD or four-wheel drive use chains during the harshest of conditions.

In Idaho, chains are only required when conditions will prevent large vehicles from traversing grades without them, and the requirement is lifted as soon as possible to limit damage to the road. Operators with the Idaho Transportation Department activate special roadside signs alerting truck drivers to chain up as needed during the winter.

Some commercial vehicles, like logging trucks, tow trucks, and school buses are exempt from the law.

If the chain up law is in effect, then all drivers should be prepared for snowy conditions. Stay on top of road conditions or closures by visiting 511.idaho.gov or downloading the Idaho 511 app.

 

Idaho Ready: Pack your winter car emergency kit

Winter weather has arrived in Idaho and it’s time to be Idaho Ready on the road. One way you can do that? Keep an emergency kit in your car this winter.

You want to be prepared for anything that comes your way, so here are a few things you should always have with you when traveling.

  • Flashlight — make sure the batteries work
  • Jumper cables — in case your car won’t start, or maybe you need to help someone else
  • Kitty litter can give you some traction if your tires are spinning on ice
  • Chains
  • Small shovel to dig out around your tires or tailpipe
  • Flares and a first aid kit
  • Food and water — pack high protein snacks that will fill you and your family up for a while
  • Anything to keep you warm — a blanket or a small sleeping bag, winter coat, gloves, hat, and waterproof boots
  • Ice scraper

If you run off the road, break down, or simply get stuck during a storm, these items will help keep you warm and safe until help arrives. Remember, always let someone know about your travel plans, especially if you’ll be driving through areas with no cell service. Check the latest road conditions at 511.idaho.gov before you leave.

Idaho Ready: Winter driving insight from ITD’s snow plow operators

In Idaho you have to be prepared for all sorts of winter weather, and that means being Idaho Ready to drive safely. The Idaho Transportation Department wants drivers to have the knowledge and resources to do that, before they hit the road. Read the messages below to gain some winter driving insight from ITD’s own snow plow operators.

It’s time to be Idaho Ready for winter driving

As winter weather arrives in Idaho, the Idaho Transportation Department has launched its annual winter safety campaign, “Idaho Ready.”

The campaign aims to help drivers prepare for challenging conditions on the state’s highways, offering tips and resources to stay safe before drivers hit the road. Short videos, blog posts, and photos will be posted weekly to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and online at itd.idaho.gov/travel.

So, are you Idaho Ready for winter driving? Here are a few tips to help you stay safe on the road.

First, check road conditions before you leave! Visit 511.idaho.gov or download the Idaho 511 app to look at weather reports and cameras across the state.

Be prepared. Keep an emergency kit with food, water, and a blanket in your car.

If roads are wet or icy, slow down and give yourself plenty of stopping room.

Pay attention to the outside temperature. When it’s near freezing, ice can form quickly, and when gaining elevation, wet roads can change to ice in just a few miles. Even when the temperature is above freezing, shaded roadways can be slick. Take it easy on overpasses and bridges too. These are the first to freeze when temperatures drop.

Snow tires and chains can help keep you moving, but be sure to practice installing your chains so you know how to use them.

When roads are slick, turn your cruise control off. If you start to slide, regain control by taking your foot off the gas and slowly turning your wheel in the direction of the skid. Try not to overcorrect, and do not slam on the brakes.

If you encounter a snow plow, slow down and make room. The safest place is behind the plow. Never pass on the right.

Please wear your seatbelt, stay engaged, and drive for the conditions. Be sure to follow along online with ITD this winter so you are always Idaho Ready.

Pedestrian safety campaign underway as days get shorter

Child wearing mask

Daylight Savings Time, love it or hate it, ends this Sunday Nov. 1 at 2 a.m. The intention behind the changing of the clocks was to conserve energy used for lighting during both World Wars, but an unintended consequence of that adaptation is an increase in crashes.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the day after Daylight Savings Time is one of the most dangerous days to drive. And the darker days place pedestrians at an increased risk as well.  

To bring awareness this October during the first ever National Pedestrian Safety Month, the Office of Highway Safety (OHS) developed and implemented a media plan aimed at keeping roadways safe for both motorists and pedestrians.

“The concept was to create a clever outreach campaign that engaged drivers, especially as they travel through school zones,” said OHS Grants Officer Denise Dinnauer. “Young drivers were our main focus this month as they are new to driving and the surprises you can encounter behind the wheel.”

To target the younger demographic, OHS focused on social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. They placed videos like this 25 second animated video appealing to teenage drivers illustrating how life is full of surprises. For instance, a good surprise is finding $20 in your jeans where a bad surprise is a kid coming out of nowhere in a school zone. 

Along with animated videos boosted posts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as interactive quizzes, encouraged drivers to look out for pedestrians even if masks may look different this year.

“At one time or another everyone is a pedestrian,” Dinnauer explained. “As drivers, whether we have a lot of experience, or are just starting out, it’s our job to watch out for our neighbors so we can all enjoy walking or biking safely in our communities.”

Report shows significant reduction in human-caused fires along I-84 even as traffic increases

BLM crews conduct a prescribed burn along ID-51

As historic catastrophic wildfires ravage the coastal states, a new report from the Bureau of Land Management is showing positive results of a fuel reduction program along Interstate 84 in southwest Idaho, a partnership between BLM and the Idaho Transportation Department.

ITD crews mow alongside U.S. 20 in Elmore County
ITD crews mow alongside U.S. 20 in Elmore County

The fuel reduction program began in 2013. Since that time, fires along the interstate have decreased in size by 95%. During that same time, the amount of traffic has increased by 30%. You can read the report on BLM’s website here.

The program involved BLM identifying critical areas for vegetation growth alongside I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home. Working with ITD maintenance crews, these areas are treated with various methods. In some locations, additional gravel is placed beside the shoulder to lengthen the distance between fuels and potential fire starts from vehicles. ITD maintenance crews will mow alongside highways to reduce available fuel. In some instances, BLM crews will conduct controlled burns to eliminate built-up vegetation. The video below captures this work.

“The partnership with BLM has been very good for the traveling public,” said Carl Vaughn, ITD foreman out of Mountain Home. “We’ve seen few fires along I-84, which means fewer road closures. We’ve knocked down barriers between the federal agency and our own to the benefit of the people we’re here to serve.”

You can do your part to prevent human caused wildfires along the roadway. Before you leave on your next trip, check beneath your vehicle and make sure nothing is dragging close to the ground. If towing, ensure safety chains are not dragging. Don’t park your vehicle in tall or dry grass, where contact with a hot part can cause a fire start. For more safety tips, visit idahofireinfo.com.