Originally Published: October 9, 2018 10:03 p.m.
Ever since her arrival in Prescott two-and-a-half years ago, Police Chief Debora Black says a common question has consistently arisen during her meetings with members of the public.
“Since I got here in 2016, in every public meeting, I get asked, ‘Why don’t we have (an ordinance restricting the use of cellphones while driving)?’ ” Black told the Prescott City Council this week.
By all indications during a council study session Tuesday, Oct. 9, Black will soon be able to respond that the city does indeed have such an ordinance.
Although no vote occurred this week, a majority of council members voiced support for an ordinance that would be consistent with the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 3 vote to ban the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.
“I’d say, ‘What took us so long?’ ” Councilman Steve Blair said after hearing reports about the proposed city ordinance from Black and City Attorney Jon Paladini. “I see it every day, and I think it’s a hazard.”
Based on the council feedback, Paladini said after the meeting that he plans to take a draft ordinance on use of electronic devices while driving to the council on Oct. 23.
If approved, the ordinance likely would ban the use of handheld electronic devices while driving, with a number of exceptions.
The ordinance would go into effect 30 days after its approval — possibly by Nov. 22 or 23, Paladini said. (The county ordinance goes into effect Nov. 2.)
Several council members mentioned the need for a public-information campaign to let the public know about the new ordinance, and Paladini said the council could opt to instruct the Police Department to issue warnings to offenders through the end of 2018, with fines being issued beginning in the new year.
Although Yavapai County already approved a county-wide ordinance banning the use of hand-held electronics while driving, council members appeared to agree that Prescott should have its own law.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us that we do something, because it’s a danger,” Councilman Steve Sischka said of the broad use of cellphones by local drivers.
By doing nothing, Councilman Phil Goode said, the city could appear to the public as condoning the use of cellphones while driving. “I think we should probably weigh in,” he said.
Several members of the audience spoke in favor of the ordinance — especially emphasizing the danger that driving while using cellphones poses for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Bill Fanelli, chairman of the city’s Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Advisory Committee, said a city law could help to change the public’s perception about using a cellphone while driving.
“This law, in conjunction with a PR campaign, would make it less socially acceptable,” Fanelli said, comparing the anticipated attitude shift to one that occurred years ago about driving while intoxicated.
Tana Brown, president of the Bike Prescott organization, referred to three recent vehicle-bicycle collisions, all involving distracted drivers. “In all three instances, the drivers said they never saw us,” she said of the cyclists.
Paladini suggested that the city make its ordinance as simple as possible.
As an example, he used the ordinance approved by the City of Surprise, which states that use of handheld mobile telephones or portable electronic devices is prohibited, with the exception of: emergency response operators; ambulance companies; fire departments and rescue service personnel; law enforcement personnel; hospitals; and a physician’s office or health clinic.
While Surprise’s ordinance imposes a $250 fine for offenders, Prescott Council members voiced some support for making the city fine consistent with Yavapai County’s law, which imposes a $100 fine.
Under the proposed ordinance, hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, would be allowed. In addition, Paladini said dashboard-mounted cellphones using mapping functions would be considered hands-free.
“I’m not suggesting we attempt to ban all cellphone use in cars; that’s not realistic,” Paladini said.