Driving

Law Bans Use of Hand-Held Cell Phones While Driving

Arizona has finally caught up with the rest of the nation by banning texting while driving.  On April 22, 2019, Governor Ducey signed HB 2318 into law.  Now, the only states still permitting people to text and drive are Montana and Missouri.  The new Arizona law is broader in scope than some simple bans on texting.  Not only is it illegal to text and drive, HB 2318 prohibits holding your phone or any other electronic device while driving.  You can still talk with a hands-free device, but it is now illegal to be on a call with the phone in your hand or on your lap.  You are not permitted to touch your cell phone while driving.

Why a Cell Phone Ban is Needed.

Statistics show that deaths and injuries from distracted driving are growing every year.  The National Safety Council reports that 9 people are killed every day in the U.S. by distracted driving.  At least 100 are injured each day.  That translates to 3,168 deaths every year and 35,200 injuries.  Some of those injuries end with life altering and permanent damage to the victim. Those numbers are growing every year with the proliferation of smart phones.   A recent study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.  Studies also show that warnings and education programs about the danger of texting and driving simply don’t work.  People driving their cars are just not willing to let a call go unanswered or to wait to read a text.  That call might be important, but it isn’t worth your life. 

Everyone has seen drivers cruising down the freeway with a phone in their hand or on their lap and glancing at the screen.  At 65 or 75 miles per hour, that is a serious collision waiting to happen.  First responders note an issue they see all the time.  A driver is distracted by looking at his phone when the traffic in front of him suddenly stops.  Even a momentary distraction is enough to prevent the driver from braking in time to avoid a rear end collision.  Then, there is the driver who fails to notice the traffic light has turned green because he or she is busy with the phone.  The drivers behind the offender become annoyed and impatient over missing the light.  Distracted drivers cause delays and near misses that require extra vigilance and better defensive driving.  They increase the levels of irritation and shortened tempers on our roadways.

How Will the New Law Work?

Penalties for using a hand-held device will not begin until January 1, 2021.  As of that date, police can ticket anyone seen with a “portable wireless device” either on their person or being supported by any part of a person’s body.  That means you cannot hold a device, have it in your lap or next to your leg where you can see the screen.  The ban does not include having a device stowed away in a pocket or in a holder attached to your belt. Penalties for a first offense range from $75 to $149 and $250 for a second offense. 

In the interim, police will be pulling drivers over and issuing a warning.  If you are driving with a phone in your hand, you can suffer the embarrassment of being pulled over by the police and chastised for your negligence.  Why the delay in enforcement?  Legislators and law enforcement agree that time is needed to instruct the public.  Not everyone reads the news, so it will take time to educate Arizona residents on the new law.  Insurance companies also need time to understand the statute and incorporate it into their policies. There are also plans for DMV to include questions on the Arizona driver’s exam about the new law.

What does the term “portable wireless device” include?  That is the term used in HB 2318. It includes cell phones, portable telephones, text-messaging devices, personal digital assistants, stand-alone computers, and hand-held GPS devices. Commercial truck drivers are also subject to the law.  Of course, the ban does not include police radios or computers.  Nor does it include devices used by the fire department or emergency services.  There are also exceptions for federally licensed radio devices.  The law does permit citizens to make a 911 call while driving or call to report a crime.

Unlawful Use of a Portable Wireless Device Will Be a Primary Offense.

Arizona’s law goes further than the texting bans some states have.  Nationwide research shows that laws banning texting only are largely ineffective.  Smart phones provide many distractions in addition to texting.  Phone calls, Facebook, selecting music or podcasts, getting directions to a destination – those are all distractions that have led to accidents. If the only use banned by law is texting, police officers must actually observe the driver reading or writing a text to issue a ticket. That isn’t easy.  Drivers can tell the officer they were looking at GPS information or answering a call.  The police are not permitted to inspect the phone, search its contents, or confiscate the phone, so those limited laws have little impact.  There is technology on the horizon called the “textalyzer,” a device that enables police to connect to a smart phone and instantly determine whether the individual was typing or swiping the screen prior to being stopped.  However, even when the textalyzer becomes available, the constitutionality of using it will be a hot issue.

Researchers also note that if driving while using a hand-held device is a “secondary” offense, the law is useless.  If a driver can only be cited under the ban when he is caught committing some other offense, drivers will not be deterred from using their phones.

Arizona’s law addresses both of those problems.  Using a “portable wireless device” while driving is a primary offense.  If an officer spots you with your smart phone in your hand or on your lap, you are busted.  They can pull you over and give you a ticket even if the rest of your driving is perfectly fine.  Arizona’s law covers any and all use of “portable wireless devices” unless they are hands free.  Traffic experts predict we will not see a sizeable reduction in distracted driver accidents this next 18 months during the warning only phase of implementation.  Distracted drivers will have a hard time kicking their smart phone habit until a sizeable fine becomes a real risk.

However, those cell phone users need to be aware that many Arizona cities already ban texting and driving.  Phoenix, Tucson, Glendale, Flagstaff, Yuma, Surprise, Prescott, Sedona, Yavapai County, and Coconino County all ban the use of hand-held devices while driving.  Even though you won’t be fined under state law until 2001, you can be ticketed under city or county law.

Resources

www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/arizona/2019/04/24/how-officers-enforce-arizona-ban-cell-phone-use-while-driving/3563448002/     

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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