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City to continue its ban on cellphone use while driving

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Courier stock image

Nothing will change for Prescott drivers and their cellphones — at least for the next year and a half or so.

Although Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new state texting ban into law on Monday, April 22, Prescott city officials plan to keep the city’s slightly stricter ordinance on the books until the state’s law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

The Prescott City Council considered the matter Tuesday, April 23, during a legislative update by Tyler Goodman, assistant to the city manager.

Goodman pointed out that the new state law is fairly similar to city’s ban on handheld devices while driving, for which citations began to be issued on Prescott streets this past January.

Because the city already had a cellphone driving ban in effect at the time of the state’s texting ban approval, Goodman said Prescott can continue to issue citations until the state’s law goes into effect.

City Attorney Jon Paladini noted that the city could opt to adopt the state law in the meantime and still continue issuing citations.

But, he said, “My recommendation is to leave ours in place. In 2021, it will automatically be repealed, because state law pre-empts (city ordinances).”

Among the differences between the city’s existing ordinance and the state’s pending law is the amount of the fines.

Paladini said the city ordinance calls for a $100 fine for the first offense, with subsequent offenses within a 12-month period subject to up to $2,500. That compares with first-time fines of $75 to $149 for the state, with subsequent offenses subject to $150 to $250.

Another difference relates to when a driver can use a cellphone in a vehicle. Paladini said the city requires that a driver essentially be parked in order to use a handheld device.

The state law would allow drivers who are parked or stopped at a traffic signal or waiting for a train to clear a railroad crossing to use their handheld devices.

“Ours is a little bit more stringent,” Paladini said.

Council members appeared to agree that the city should keep its ordinance on the books until the state’s law becomes effective.

“It’s much easier for people to be conditioned not to use their cellphones (while driving),” Councilman Phil Goode said. “We should keep what we have.”

The city approved its ordinance in October 2018, and it went into effect in November, but only warnings were authorized to be issued until Jan. 1, 2019.

Mayor Greg Mengarelli reported that since the warnings began on Nov. 23, the police department has so far issued 86 written warnings, and several dozen verbal warnings.

Since the citations started in January, the police have issued 15 citations, Mengarelli said, and had dealt with one accident that was a result of distracted driving.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Mengarelli and Paladini said the council members had given enough direction on the matter, and that the city’s ordinance would stay in effect for the next 20 months without further action needed.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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