There is a ban against cellphone use and driving. Is it effective?

Photo illustration.

Photo by JC Amberlyn.

Photo illustration.

You see those people talking or texting on their cellphones while driving every day.

They’re holding up traffic at a stoplight that turned green a while ago, not paying attention when turning or changing lanes, speeding through school zones, generally clueless to what’s going on around them.

Heck, admit it. We’re all guilty.

Some 660,000 drivers use their cellphone daily while driving, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It’s overtaken drunken driving as the leading cause of fatal motor vehicle accidents. The government reports 3,154 people were killed in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2013, and 424,000 were injured.

Carolyn Carlson, a crossing guard at Hualapai Elementary School, said she sees at least five drivers on their cellphones in the 25-minute period she works each morning and afternoon.

“There’s quite a few. It’s hard telling,” Carlson said. “I’ve had people go through my (stop) sign while I’m standing there. Whether they’re on the phone, I can’t say. I’m not looking at them. I’m looking at the kids. But yes, I see it quite frequently.”

Kingman City Council passed an ordinance more than a year ago that bans cellphone use while driving, but it doesn’t seem to have much of an effect. The ordinance was based on similar bans in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson.

Kingman Police Department wrote 519 warnings and issued 14 tickets in 2016 for unlawful use of a mobile electronic device, Deputy Chief Rusty Cooper said.

“I would agree that many people are violating the ordinance,” he said. “However, officers are required to prioritize enforcement of civil traffic violations with calls for service.”

KPD responded to 41,398 calls for service in 2016, up 15 percent from 2015 and up 25 percent from 2014. That plays a significant role in the department’s ability to enforce traffic violations.

“An officer is responding to a disturbance call in a neighborhood. They see a speeding vehicle, or a person driving and talking on their cellphone. I would not support nor recommend that the officer divert from their assigned call for the traffic offense,” Cooper said.

Another challenge is that many people aren’t aware of the ordinance, which is why police have issued more warnings than citations.

“If a driver is stopped and we can determine they have previously been warned, they will most likely be issued a citation,” Cooper said.

Most people would agree the cellphone law is a good one, though enforcement seems to be lacking and fines are not substantial enough to be a deterrent.

Laws governing cellphone use while driving are a work in progress, and they can be difficult to enforce. Currently, some 35 states ban text-messaging while driving, 30 states ban talking on the phone and 10 states ban the use of all hand-held devices.

Kingman Vice Mayor Jen Miles was a big proponent of the cellphone law, and continues to support it.

“I too still see people talking on cellphones while driving,” she said. “Whether they are unaware of the ban or ignoring is it hard to know as we have so many visitors.

“I have become much more aware of the dangers surrounding distracted driving and my hope is the ban will elevate this issue in the minds of all our drivers. As they say, safety is no accident.”

Perhaps Kingman should put up signs around town warning motorists of the law, said Dick Penwarden, who lobbied City Council to pass the law in late 2015. Then police could be more proactive, he said.

“I believe the Kingman law is well-written, but is only as good as its enforcement and respected by the people,” Penwarden said.

Sandra Kaplan of Golden Valley would tell you the law is being enforced. She’s looking at a $200 fine when she goes to court in February for a cellphone violation. She’s definitely in favor of putting up warning signs.

Dixie Bamburg admits to texting and driving in the past, though she has since conformed to the law, which she thinks should be more strongly enforced.

“When this law went into effect, some got pretty angry about it and likely chose to ignore it,” Bamburg responded to the Daily Miner’s request for comments on prohibiting cellphone use while driving.

“I am almost 70 and feel I am a pretty good and safe driver, but when paying attention to my own driving, I found that if I answered the phone while driving, there is a split second when even just looking to touch the answer button, that I wasn’t keeping my focus on what was most important, which is my driving,” she said.