It’s official. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors formally adopted a cellphone ordinance on Tuesday night that makes talking and texting illegal while driving. The county ban does make an exception for hands-free devices. The measure goes into effect on May 22.
“From my standpoint as a public health officer, this is a public health issue. It’s a public safety issue,” Coconino County Chief Health Officer Marie Peoples said after her agency recommended the ban. She added, “The reality is we’re not going to be able to take cellphones away from people while they’re driving, but the least we can do is mitigate the risk.”
It applies to all roadways inside the boundaries of Coconino County, including incorporated areas. Cities like Flagstaff will now have to formally opt out if they don’t want the ban to apply inside city boundaries. In the past, Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours has indicated that the city is unlikely to go along with such a ban, based on tepid support for similar ordinances considered by the city council.
Motorists have a six-month grace period during which they will receive only a warning. After that, tickets can be given at an officer’s discretion.
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The ban makes talking or texting while driving a primary offense — allowing an officer to pull over motorists seen using a phone. And it also captures Interstates 40 and 17. However, the Arizona Department of Public Safety already empowers its officers to give distracted driving tickets to cellphone users (see related story).
Law enforcement officials, including Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil, have expressed concerns about patchwork enforcement in the past.
The move was not sudden or unanticipated. Coconino County has been considering such an ordinance for years, but has held back in hopes that a much-preferred state law will pass.
In the time that Coconino County has considered its own bans, a handful of Republican and Democratic state lawmakers have separately proposed 24 different House or Senate bills that would impose a ban in some form or another. Recently, legislators have struggled even to pass a bill restricting teen driving.
According to county officials, only a few members of the public made comments on the ordinance at a public hearing last week and before the measure was adopted on Tuesday. The comments indicated support for the restrictions.
The bill states: “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a portable communications device to engage in a call unless that device is configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used exclusively in that manner while driving. Texting and typing while operating a motor vehicle are banned.”
Violating the ordinance is a civil penalty punishable by a $100 fine, plus any other penalty allowable by law. Anyone involved in a crash while talking or texting is subject to a $250 penalty.
— using a hands-free device
— emergency calls to law enforcement, doctors, hospitals and ambulance corps
— calls made by law enforcement and emergency responders
— driving on private property
— a driver who has pulled off to the side of the road
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.