Kingman Council deadlocks on texting-while-driving issue

KINGMAN - That didn't take long.

Less than a month after former vice mayor Mark Wimpee resigned, the City Council on Tuesday failed to endorse or reject a proposed ban on handheld devices while driving when the vote ended in a 3-3 tie after lengthy discussion.

Kingman Police Chief Bob DeVries supports the ordinance, but Councilmembers Stuart Yocum, Carole Young and Mark Abram want the law, in one fashion or another, to be broad.

Yocum, for instance, believes it's unfair to target people using handheld devices when there are other types of distracted driving, such as eating, smoking, adjusting the radio dial, reaching for a CD, and dogs on laps.

Young supports a ban on texting and driving, but she's not certain talking on a cell phone while driving should be prohibited.

Abram supports the ban, but doesn't believe it goes far enough as there is no evidence drivers who use hands free devices, such as through Bluetooth, are any less distracted than those who hold a phone or other device in their hand while driving.

Mayor Richard Anderson, Councilwoman Jen Miles and Councilman Larry Carver supported the proposed ordinance.

From law enforcement's perspective, an overly broad ordinance would not work as virtually every driver is distracted for a second or two just about every time he or she gets behind the wheel.

Several residents spoke for and against the proposed ordinance, with virtually everyone agreeing that a texting ban would be welcomed. Not all agreed that talking on a phone should be banned.

The ordinance as written provides exceptions to the ban, such as for emergency responders while on duty. DeVries said information must sometimes be conveyed to dispatchers that isn't appropriate for broadcast through scanners.

A driver could use his or her cell phone to report a medical emergency, safety hazard or criminal activity.

People working on road construction operating a fleet vehicle would be exempt, as would anyone using a half-duplex two-way radio (an amateur radio operator).

Hands-free devices would be legal and people who park on the shoulder of the road to use the device would be legal.

Other concerns included travelers getting off the interstate who would be unaware of the ban. People driving from the county - which has no ban - into the city might not be aware they crossed a jurisdictional boundary. According to the law, ignorance of an ordinance is no excuse.

Resident Stanley Hickman said he considers the proposed ban an assault on his freedom. Resident Theresa Evans said the lack of a ban is an assault on her right not to get hit by a distracted driver.

Proponents believe the ban would save lives. DeVries noted a 70-year-old man was seriously injured Friday after a motorist allegedly on her cell phone ran a stop sign and struck his motorcycle.

However, as Abram pointed out, there is little evidence on two of the key issues: What impact do distractions have on crash risk, and what effect do such bans have on reducing them?

According to the nationwide Governor's Highway Safety Association, cell phone use increases crash risk to some degree, but just how much has not been determined.

There is no conclusive evidence hands-free is less risky than handheld.

Laws banning cell phone use cut use by about 50 percent when they are first enacted, but usage increased later.

There is no evidence such bans have reduced crashes.

It should be noted, however, that there is no evidence such bans don't reduce crashes. The issue is one of longevity. It takes time before meaningful data can be collected and analyzed.

City Attorney Carl Cooper and his staff will be tasked with amending the proposed ordinance before it comes up for another vote.