The Flagstaff City Council unanimously approved a new ban on texting or typing while driving a car or riding a bike Tuesday night.
But there is concern among councilmembers that motorists and law enforcement officers may confuse the city’s new texting-only ban with the county’s new ban on all cellphone use without a hands-free device that was passed in May.
The main concern is whether motorists will know or remember that the county prohibits all hand-held cellphone use while leaving the city limits, not just texting.
Councilmember Celia Barotz said she was thankful that the issue finally came before Council and a decision was made to protect the safety of motorists. But she wished there had been more communication between the city and the county on the issue.
“I wish we could have done a better job coordinating this with the county,” she said.
Councilmember Jeff Oravits and Mayor Jerry Nabours pointed out the county could have reached out to the city.
Said Oravits: “It cuts both ways. The county could have done more, too.”
The city’s new law prohibits drivers and bicycle riders from texting, emailing or using an instant message program to send or read a message while the vehicle is in motion. Drivers and cyclists are allowed to text or email while stopped for a red light, waiting for a train to pass or pulled over on the side of the road.
The ban becomes law on Aug. 15, but the city is offering a six-month grace period during which motorists caught texting will only get a warning instead of a ticket. After six months, it will be up to the police officer making the traffic stop to determine whether a ticket is warranted.
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The county law bans drivers from taking or making phone calls while driving, unless they are using a hands-free device or pulled over on the side of the road. It also bans all texting or typing while driving.
It was passed in late April but has a six-month grace period through late November during which sheriff’s deputies will issue only warnings.
The county’s law applies to all unincorporated areas and cities that have not opted out of the ban. So far, Flagstaff and Williams are the only two cities in Coconino County that have opted out of the county’s ban and created their own.
The cities of Phoenix and Tucson have texting bans, as does the entire state of New Mexico. California bans all handheld cellphone use by drivers.
The county’s law makes using a cellphone while driving a primary offense. Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies can pull over drivers if they see them using their cellphone to either talk or type.
Flagstaff’s new law also makes texting while driving a primary offense.
A person found in violation of either the city’s or county’s laws faces a $100 fine. The fine increases to $250 if the motorist is involved in an accident while texting.
Emergency responders, ham radio, CB radio and law enforcement are exempt from the city law. The county also exempts emergency responders and law enforcement from its cell phone ban. It is considering an amendment that would also exempt CB and ham radio operators.
Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2253.