Ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving gets unanimous OK from Prescott City Council
City issues ‘grace period’ on fines through the end of 2018
Ladies and gentlemen of Prescott: Get ready to start your engines, but put down the cellphones.
As of late November, a new law will go into effect on the streets of Prescott, banning hand-held electronics while driving.
The Prescott City Council unanimously approved the ban at its Tuesday, Oct. 23, meeting.
The ordinance is mostly consistent with the ban that the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors recently approved.
While the county’s ban will go into effect on Nov. 2, however, the city will give drivers on Prescott streets a grace period on fines for about six weeks after its ordinance goes into effect.
City Attorney Jon Paladini pointed out that the new ordinance would go into effect 30 days after this week’s approval, or about Nov. 22.
To give the city time to get out the word, the council agreed to a “grace period” on fines until the start of the New Year.
That means that Prescott drivers could be pulled over for hand-held cellphone use starting in late November, but not immediately face fines.
Police Chief Debora Black said after Tuesday’s meeting that officers would begin stopping offenders after the ordinance goes into effect, but would issue warnings and information about the new ordinance through the end of December.
Then, beginning Jan. 1, 2019, drivers violating the hand-held electronics ban will face a $100 fine for the first offense, and as much as $250 for subsequent offenses within a 12-month period.
In response to a question on why the city needs an ordinance on top of the countywide ban, Paladini explained that while the county’s ban could be enforced on state and county highways within Prescott city limits, “From a jurisdictional standpoint, it could be a problem if we try to enforce the county ordinance on city streets.”
City Council members had already indicated during an Oct. 9 study session that they wanted to weigh in on the matter, in addition to the county’s ordinance.
Several reiterated that point this week. “I, for one, am glad it’s here,” Councilman Steve Blair said. “It’s long overdue.”
Councilman Jim Lamerson, added, “I do think it’s imperative that all municipalities in the county work together. We have a districted driving problem.”
Although the council members were united on the need for the city ordinance, several had a problem with one of the fine amounts proposed in the draft ordinance.
Councilman Phil Goode pointed out that he viewed the $100 fine for the first offense as reasonable. But he voiced opposition to the proposed fine of as “up to $2,500” for subsequent offenses in the same 12-month.
Paladini noted that the fine for subsequent violations (after the first) would be up to the discretion of a traffic hearing officer or judge. “It would depend on the facts of the situation,” Paladini said, adding that the hearing officers tend to be fair in issuing penalties.
Still, the council agreed to change the fine for subsequent offenses to “up to $250,” rather than $2,500.
Under the terms of the new ordinance, drivers would be allowed to use hand-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, and dash-mounted phones.
Paladini said the ordinance would allow drivers to activate their hand-free devices under the ordinance.
One difference between the city and county ordinance relates to drivers who pull over to use their cellphones.
While the county’s ordinance requires that a vehicle be stationary and placed in “park” before using hand-held devices, the city’s ordinance allows drivers to use cellphones when their vehicle “has pulled over to the side of the road or off a roadway and has stopped at a location in which the vehicle can safety remain stationary.”
To prepare for the implementation of the ordinance, the city plans, among other things, to install signs about the hand-held electronics ban on roads leading into Prescott, and to post information about the ban on its website.