By Philip Haldiman
The state may have approved a law to ban cell phone use while operating a vehicle, but the city of Peoria is driving the new rules home.
The City Council approved an ordinance mirroring the state law, June 4.
“The purpose of enacting the city ordinance is to promote public awareness, initiate a local education campaign, show support for the state law and put a city ordinance in place which authorizes enforcement under both city and state law,” City Attorney Vanessa Hickman said.
Like the state law, the new ordinance will prohibit the use of a portable wireless communication devices or stand-alone electronic devices while driving a car.
Ms. Hickman said this includes text messaging, emailing and watching videos.
This also means drivers cannot physically hold or support the device with any part of their body, except by using an earpiece, headphone, or device worn on a wrist to make a phone call.
The new ordinance does not apply to the use of voice-based communications through virtual assistants for text messaging or the use of hands-free features, such as Siri or Google Assist.
It also does not apply if the driver is reporting an emergency, safety hazard or criminal activity.
The ordinance is a primary offense, which means an officer can perform a traffic stop if the behavior is observed.
Ms. Hickman said there is a warning period before the ordinance goes into effect that runs thorugh Dec. 31, 2020. Citations can be issued beginning Jan. 1, 2021.
She said fines range from $75 to $149 for the first offense and $150 to $250 for the second and subsequent offenses. If there is serious injury or death, it is a class 1 misdemeanor, a presumptive six-month jail sentence and up to $2,500 fine, according to the ordinance.
“Enforcement and fines are consistent with state law,” Ms. Hickman said. “So there is a lengthy warning period to get everybody familiar with the ordinance and the state law, and to get every one up to speed with a period of education before citations can be issued.”
Drivers who use portable communication devices to send text messages while operating a motor vehicle are statistically more likely to become involved in a traffic accident, contributing to the increase of injuries, deaths, property damage, healthcare costs and auto insurance rates, according to a city report.
Mayor Cathy Carlat said that while the ordinance will not go into effect for another year, staff will most likely begin formulating an educational program as quickly as possible.
“I feel that this is a critical safety factor and the law needed to be enacted quickly,” Ms. Carlat said. “We moved forward with getting our ordinance in place so we can begin to educate drivers. We are ready to raise the bar on safe driving.”
A future study session will held to discuss such things, but has not yet been scheduled.
“There will be a discussion about a communication plan for making sure our residents are fully aware of the implications of this, providing some of the statistics as to why this is so important, and then making sure they know exactly why we are enforcing this,” City Manager Jeff Tyne said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.
- Primary offense: Officer can perform a traffic stop if the behavior is observed
- Warning period: Now until Dec. 31, 2020
- Citations issued: Beginning Jan. 1, 2021
- Civil penalties: Fines are $75-$149 for the first offense and $150-$250 for second and subsequent offenses. Serious injury or death is a class 1 misdemeanor, with a presumptive six-month jail sentence and up to $2,500 fine.