Kingman pursuing ban on cell phone use while driving

Texting while driving increases the odds of causing a wreck, according to studies and statistics. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Texting while driving increases the odds of causing a wreck, according to studies and statistics. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - "Put down the phone and nobody gets hurt" is probably not something a Kingman Police officer would say to a distracted driver - but make no mistake, using a handheld device while driving in the city of Kingman may soon get people pulled over.

Not willing to wait on reluctant state lawmakers to take action, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed it was time to ban drivers from using handheld devices while behind the wheel, whether to talk, text, email, engage in social media, download music, or fiddle with an Ipod or MP3 player.

"This is serious," said Mayor Richard Anderson. "These are our people and our friends. I don't want to see them in the ER, or worse."

Inspired by resident Dick Penwarden, who on Sept. 1 implored the Council to consider the ban, Anderson and his colleagues directed City Attorney Carl Cooper to draft an ordinance, using as a blueprint similar bans in place in the state of Nevada, Flagstaff, Coconino County, Phoenix and Tucson.

Unlike the seatbelt law, the proposed ban would be a primary offense, meaning law enforcement would have probable cause to stop a motorist using a handheld device.

Penwarden said law enforcement needs a "straightforward law" that wouldn't impede officers or create the need for them to constantly appear in court.

"The state has put this aside for two years," said Penwarden. "They've been very reluctant and I think [it is because] they don't want to give up their own cell phones while driving."

State Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, disagreed with Penwarden's assertion when contacted on Wednesday.

"We already have distracted driving laws," she said. "We don't need more. Law enforcement has what they need already. Of course, texting while driving is dangerous, and it isn't smart. Making a new law isn't necessary. If this takes effect, law enforcement is likely to have access to all of the content of the phones of those they pull over ... and this could lead to unnecessary invasion of privacy.

"I also believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement to enforce the ban."

Deputy Police Chief Rusty Cooper told the Council the department supports legislation regarding distracted driving and encouraged members to research the issue.

Penwarden said Sheriff Jim McCabe also supports the ban, but the sheriff would rather see a state law so there is uniformity.

That prompted issues of jurisdiction raised by resident Harley Pettit, as someone would be legal using a handheld device while driving in the county, but would break the law once they crossed into the city. Penwarden said Mohave County should also enact a ban, and that the two ordinances should be similar.

Councilwoman Jen Miles said the KPD's desire for a ban was reason enough for her to support it.

Pettit was the only person to oppose the proposal.

"I know this sounds like a good idea, but every law that's passed takes away our freedom." He acknowledged, however, that the goal was "well intended."

Theresa Evans had a different take.

"They have the right to have a cell phone, but I have a right to drive down the road safely," she said. "Maybe, just maybe, this will get the state to pull their heads out of their duffs. That law in Nevada has saved many lives."

From Anderson's perspective, the ban is necessary for the benefit of residents.

"This city cares about its people, our children and our neighbors. I don't care if the county hasn't gotten around to it," he said. "We need something to take care of our people."

Councilman Mark Abram supports the ban, but like others, he wants to see accident statistics in places where such a law is in place, and he also encouraged the county to "get on board."

Councilman Larry Carver picked up his cell phone from the dais and said, "This is not a right. It's a privilege. The statistics say you're 23 percent more likely to get in an accident while texting."

Carver suggested the ban include all city staff who drive city-owned vehicles, including law enforcement.

"I just feel if we tell citizens they can't use it, neither should we," said Carver.

While the plan would prohibit people from using handheld electronic devices, it doesn't go far enough for Councilman Stuart Yocum, who suggested eating, putting on makeup and other activities also distract drivers.

"I don't know if any of the ordinances go to that extreme," replied Carl Cooper. "But we'll look into it."

Yocum said his concern was that the law singles out users of handheld devices when there are other things people do that distract them when behind the wheel.

Carl Cooper said his staff would draft a proposed ordinance with several options available for the Council to review.

No timeline was given, but Cooper's office routinely has such ordinances available for the Council's consideration within 30 days.