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New Tucson Ordinance Added to the Mix of Hands-Free Laws in Southern Arizona

Posted by Matt Schmidt | May 04, 2017 | 0 Comments

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It's a familiar and frightening scene: red light, head down, hands occupied by email, text, or Facebook. We have all heard one too many tragedies resulting from distracted driving. Effective May 1st, the City of Tucson's new ordinance is putting the pressure on drivers to break this deadly habit.

Drivers caught using a cellphone while driving will be fined $250 for their first offence and $500 for their second. The minimum fine for drivers involved in a car accident while using a cellphone is $2,500. Tucson City Council's cellphone ordinance is a secondary offence however, meaning drivers must be pulled over for another reason to be cited.

With the City of Tucson's most recent effort, navigating the litany of laws and ordinances regarding cellphone usage while driving in Southern Arizona may be puzzling.

Earlier this year, the Town of Oro Valley passed a hands-free ordinance that is comparatively stricter than Tucson's. In Oro Valley, driving while handling a cellphone is a primary offence.  OV's ordinance “prohibits drivers from holding their electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on a public road, regardless of being stopped at a light or stop sign”. Exceptions include calling 911 or a hospital. Citations are much less steep than Tucson however. Violators are fined $50 for their first offence, $100-$200 for the second, and $250 for causing a crash.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors also passed an ordinance last year to address cellphone usage while driving. Like Oro Valley, manually handling a cell phone while driving is a primary offence and is subject to a civil penalty of $100, or $250 if involved in an accident. However, Pima County's ordinance allows for drivers to use a cellphone while a vehicle is stationary. Another point of controversy is that drivers can still “initiate, receive, or engage in voice communication”. Though a driver's eyes may not be diverted downwards, their attention and hands may still be preoccupied.

For new drivers, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law SB 1080 which prohibits the use of wireless communication devices for teenagers within the first 6 months of driving after they get their license, or until they reach the age of 18. Teen drivers may not be cited unless there is reasonable cause to believe another law has been violated.

Even considering all of the previously mentioned laws and ordinances (State of Arizona, Pima County, City of Tucson, Town of Oro Valley), driving in Southern Arizona need not be confusing. Bottom line: DO NOT USE YOUR CELLPHONE WHILE DRIVING. Put the phone down and pay attention to the road. The safety of pedestrians, road workers, bicyclists, other drivers, and more importantly, yourself are at risk when you use your phone in any capacity.

If civil penalties and risk of injury are not enough to curb this habit, there are services that provide incentives to put your phone down while driving. “Down for the Count” is a free app that rewards safe drivers with gift cards and coupons for leaving their phone untouched during trips.

For a more lighthearted take on a serious topic, check out this video: https://youtu.be/DjK-TmMOb9I

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.

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