By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — A baker’s dozen of things you need to know about the new texting law:
When does all this take effect?
January 1, 2021. That doesn’t preclude an offending motorist from being stopped between now and then, though police could issue only warnings for violating the new law.
What will be forbidden?
The new law will make it illegal to “physically hold” or “support with any part of the body” any cell phone or other portable wireless communication device whole operating a motor vehicle. There was some debate — and no clear answer — on what constitutes “support” of a phone, whether that means in the lap, in the pocket or elsewhere. But from a practical standpoint, if it’s in a lap it is unlikely that a police officer would see it there and pull someone over. The law bans not only chatting on the phone but writing, sending and reading text messages, emails, instant messages or internet data.
What are the key exceptions?
Drivers can make calls if they use earpieces, headphones or any type of device worn on a wrist to conduct voice communications. Vehicles with built-in interfaces with cell phones also are exempt as long as they can be operated with minimal interactions, meaning simply to press a button to active or deactivate. People also can “read” texts if these are translated into voice. And they also can send texts if done through voice commands. A phone maps and GPS also can be used if in a hands-free mode.
What about other types of devices?
The same restrictions on holding a cell phone also apply to any “stand-alone electronic device.” That means anything with stored audio or video. So no hanging on to the phone while listening to previously recorded podcasts or watching tapes of Game of Thrones.
What about watching live TV?
That already is illegal. But the new law clarifies that statute does not apply to mapping services which update images as well as to cars and trucks with built-in video screens that provide information about the vehicle. The legislation also adds a provision designed to protect people who have dash cams and similar devices that continuously record what’s going on, either in the vehicle or on the road.
Are there other types of operations that are not subject to the law?
Motorists can use a cell phone to “report illegal activity or summon emergency help.” Also not subject to new restrictions are licensed amateur radio operators and fleet drivers with commercial licenses communicating with a dispatcher. And for those who are still attached to their citizens ban radios, you can keep yakking away, good buddy.
What about when I’m stopped?
It depends on where. Motorists who are parked are exempt and can call and text at will. Ditto if you’re at a stop light or waiting for a train to clear a railroad crossing. But a stop sign doesn’t count. Nor does being stopped for a school bus.
What are the fines?
A first offense carries a minimum fine of $75, up to $149. Subsequent violations result in fines of at least $150 and no more than $250. But the offenses accumulate no points on a motorist’s license. There is an exception: Licenses can be suspended if someone is violating the new law and causes a serious injury or death.
Do I have to give my cell phone to a police officer when stopped?
No. There is an exception for “when authorized by law,” but there is no definition.
But what about all those existing local laws?
Those remain in effect and can still be enforced, including provisions that are stricter than what’s in this new law. So if a local ordinance has no exception for stop lights, motorists can still be cited. But as of Jan. 1, 2021, any provision that does not mirror the state law will disappear.
If there’s a delayed effective date, why the emergency clause?
One provision that takes effect immediately requires the Motor Vehicle Division to now start testing would-be drivers on the effects of using cell phones and similar devices. Another new section allows MVD to suspend the commercial driver’s license of someone who violates the law.
What about the “distracted driving” law?
That is a separate bill that went to Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday which allows police to stop and cite someone if they are doing something other than driving, whether texting or eating a ham sandwich, and it creates an immediate hazard or the motorist does not exercise reasonable control of the vehicle. That measure, if approved, would take effect later this summer. Ducey said he is still reviewing that measure.
Do these bill conflict?
Not necessarily. The texting and cell phone use ban is stricter in the sense that a motorist can be cited solely for holding and using the device, even with no indication that it’s affecting the person’s driving. But the distracted driving bill, while requiring some indication of affecting the operation of the motor vehicle, can be applied to just about anything unrelated to actually controlling the car or truck.