Town Council mulls possible distracted driving ordinance
Yavapai County approved a ban on using hand-held devices while driving, making it the third county in the state to adopt such a measure. Now city and town councils are looking into using the county’s ordinance or developing their own code.
Prescott Valley council member Mary Mallory said she supports a similar ordinance for Prescott Valley during discussion at the council’s Oct. 18 work study session. Mallory’s concern is confusion drivers may experience as they drive from unincorporated county roads, such as in Canyon Castle Mesa, into Prescott Valley jurisdiction or to other towns and cities in Yavapai County which do not have a ban.
“I absolutely agree that this is something we should go forward with,” Mallory said. “I would highly and hopefully encourage our legislature to take it to a state level for the safety of the communities, because when you have kind of a hodge-podge thing going on here, the communication isn’t clear.”
Confusion could also occur when driving between a county which prohibits use and a county that allows use of hand-held devices.
“The ideal situation would be for the state of Arizona to adopt a law so that you don’t have a patchwork of different jurisdictions,” Town Manager Larry Tarkowski agreed.
Besides the pros and cons of the law itself, Tarkowski said the council will need to consider other matters relating to enforcement.
The county ordinance, which goes into effect Nov. 2, states that drivers are prohibited from driving a motor vehicle “while holding in his or her hand, typing on or otherwise manually operating a portable communications device.” Seven exemptions include an allowance for hands-free mobile devices that include use by law enforcement and fire agencies, ambulance or physician’s office, and when pulled off the side of the road with the vehicle in park.
Violating the ordinance may result in a $100 fine, plus other assessments and surcharges. If the motorist is involved in a motor vehicle crash, the fine could be $250.
PV Town Attorney Ivan Legler said council can adopt the county ordinance to be enforced within town boundaries. Those receiving tickets would go to one of the county justice courts, most likely Prescott Justice Court or the one near Dewey.
“And so would the police officers,” Legler said. “If council says, ‘We would like to have our own provisions,’ then you would not adopt the county’s, but would create your own.”
In that case, if a driver violates the town code, the goes to the PV magistrate court, as would PV police officers if they need to testify, he said.
As a technical matter, if town develops its own, Legler added, it would be subject to a possible referendum.
PVPD Chief Bryan Jarrell spoke about his recent research project in which use of cell phones causes “inattention blindness” and has been compared to the same impact as having a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, the legal limit for a DUI. In fact, the American Automobile Association considers hands-free and hand-held cell phone use to have no difference in degree of distraction.
“It is a significant problem. I can tell you law enforcement strongly supports legislation to curb this type of behavior,” Jarrell said.
The easiest solution would be to adopt the county’s resolution, Legler said. Tarkowski countered by saying the town needs its own code for the convenience of its residents who would, if ticketed, go to magistrate court in Prescott Valley and not need to drive to another jurisdiction.
This also would be more convenient for the police officers, said council member Rick Anderson.
“Initially my concern was about government overreach. But I think in a case like this, because of the action of the individuals and the fact that they can cause the death of another individual, government overreach has to take a back seat,” Anderson said.
Council member Jodi Rooney asked if an exemption includes transit operators such as Uber or Lyft drivers. Legler said the town could write its own exemptions.
The town attorney also said adopting an ordinance could be done as an emergency measure with one reading by the council and to take effect immediately, instead of two readings before adoption and then 30 days before going into effect.
Council directed town staff to write up an ordinance and bring it back for review at the next study session.
Council member Marty Grossman gave an example of why he wants an ordinance. “I’ve seen people talking on the phone with one hand and their hand is moving with the other one. OK, which hand is on the steering wheel? Neither one was. I see stuff like that and I just slow down and get out of their way.”
NEW WELL SITE
In other matters, the council discussed an intergovernmental agreement with the Humboldt Unified School District to lease or purchase property on the south side of Coyote Springs Elementary School for a new well.
Neil Wadsworth, Utilities Department director, said the potential site, about a third of an acre, is more than a half mile from any existing well.
Constructing this new well has nothing to do with where new development is occurring, Wadsworth said.
The school district has indicated it is amenable to selling the property, so the next step is to set up an appraisal and survey, and draft an agreement.
The third and final item on the agenda was discussion on a request from the Greater Prescott Regional Economic Partnership (GPREP) to continue its relationship with the town. The organization was formed to bring together local government and private sectors to help market the area and bring in good paying jobs, Tarkowski said.
GPREP has had some difficulties, and in the past year, PV has not paid dues. In the past, the town has paid $40,000 in fees per year. The town will decide whether to support GPREP in the next budget year, based on what kind of progress is being made from now until the end of June 2019.
“I think supporting the organization is important to the region,” said council member Anderson, who has been involved with GPREP for the past five years.
“I still believe that regional economic development is the wave of the future, and what’s good for another city or town is good for Prescott Valley. And I want to continue that,” Anderson said.