Connect to Disconnect during Distracted Driving Awareness Month

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety (OHS) is joining other state highway safety offices and law enforcement agencies across the country to keep our communities safe with engaged driving. This is part of a nationwide effort called Connect to Disconnect.

Thursday, April 8 officers across the country will commit a four-hour shift to targeting distracted driving. In addition, April 19 – 30, more than 60 law enforcement agencies throughout Idaho will work with OHS to dedicate patrols to enforcing Idaho’s new hands-free law.

“April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and we urge Idahoans to join us by agreeing to disconnect from your phone, put it away while you are behind the wheel, and drive engaged,” said OHS Manager John Tomlinson.

According to OHS data, between 2015 and 2019 there were more than 25,000 distracted driving crashes in Idaho killing 237 people. Nationally, distracted driving was a factor in nine percent of all traffic fatalities in 2019 – in Idaho, it was 16 percent.

To help improve safety on our roads, the Idaho legislature passed the hands-free law last year, banning the use of handheld electronic devices while driving – even while temporarily stopped at a red light or stop sign. Officers spent the second half of 2020 educating drivers about the new law and in January they began issuing citations.

“Inattentive driving is illegal and dangerous,” Tomlinson said. “If you need to use your phone’s GPS, enter the address in before you start driving. Check out Bluetooth options for your car so you can talk hands-free, and if you have to read or send a text, pull over and park the car. Choose to leave the distractions behind, stay focused on the road, and drive engaged so you can help save lives.”

For more information visit shift-idaho.org.

Check out the new Idaho 511

New & Improved 511 Road Report

Idaho 511 is a valuable resource for travelers all year long, and now our newest version of the website has officially launched! Take some time to get familiar with the layout and check out the features.

Head to 511.idaho.gov to try out the latest Idaho 511. Your favorite features from our “Full Featured” website are all still there, including the cameras, road reports, traffic speeds, and more. However, now you will find them listed in the layers menu on the right side of your screen. Check the boxes next to your preferred map icons to turn them on, and uncheck the boxes to turn map icons off.

New map layers include Waze Reports, which are citizen road reports from Waze App users, as well as a variety of weather related options. Putting a checkmark in the Weather Radar box for example, will show you where precipitation is falling across the state.

On the left side of your screen (or below on a phone or tablet) severe weather cameras and critical events, road closures, or blockages are displayed as they are happening. These give you an instant look at current situations statewide that may have direct impact on your travel.

With a Your 511 personalized account, you can also choose to save your favorite cameras now, in addition to your favorite routes and places. And when zoomed out on the map, multiple cameras or events in one specific area will group together to display in a “cluster.” This grey or green circle shows the number of cameras or events. Simply click on the circle and the map will automatically zoom in to that area.

“We are excited to update our technology and still give travelers the user friendly Idaho 511 they are used to,” said ITD Travel Services Coordinator Tony Ernest. “Since late 2019, we’ve asked 511 users to test the new site and provide feedback. This input has helped our development team immensely in making sure drivers have easy access to the resources they need.”

Commercial truck drivers will no longer need a separate version of Idaho 511. The improved Idaho 511 features a Commercial Vehicle tab that selects appropriate trucking related map layers like Restrictions, Truck Ramp locations, and Weigh Stations.

Our “Streamlined” low bandwidth version of Idaho 511 will stick around for a little while longer, but get ready for that page to retire in late spring. Start using the new Idaho 511 now so you’re prepared!

Click here to visit the new Idaho 511.

ITD and law enforcement agencies partner to prevent aggressive driving

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety (OHS) and more than 50 law enforcement agencies across the state are teaming up to keep Idaho roads safe. February 1-15, officers will be on the roads looking for aggressive drivers.

Aggressive driving is a contributing factor in half of all crashes in Idaho. According to preliminary data, aggressive driving was a factor in 78 fatal crashes in the state during 2020.

“Aggressive driving crashes don’t happen by accident,” said OHS Manager John Tomlinson. “Someone made that choice. We all have the power to help prevent crashes by deciding to slow down and have patience behind the wheel.”

Aggressive driving happens when a driver operates a vehicle in a way that endangers other people or property on the roads. It’s a series of behaviors that includes speeding, following another driver too closely, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights, and ignoring other traffic signs.

As winter weather impacts the area, officers will also be watching for those driving too fast for the conditions. When roads are slick, leave more space between you and the vehicle ahead to give yourself plenty of stopping room. Take extra caution while passing.

“Each driver has the responsibility to stay aware and engaged any time they get behind the wheel. Together we can save lives, if we make the choice to drive well,” Tomlinson said.

For more information on aggressive driving, visit shift-idaho.org/aggressive-driving.

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.