Hands-free violation warnings trump citations
The car in front of you is sporadically speeding up and slowing down, swerving, not paying attention to traffic signals and making other drivers nervous in general. They could possibly be intoxicated, but these days, there’s a good chance they’re talking on the phone or sending a text.
Even with Kingman’s hands-free ordinance, which went into effect Jan 1, 2016, Kingmanites would be hard pressed to make a grocery store run or drop kids off at practice without seeing someone using a cellphone while driving.
According to the Kingman Police Department’s annual reports from the last three years, 690 warnings were issued regarding hands-free ordinance violations, while only 25 citations were written in 2018. In 2017, there were 949 warnings and 27 citations, and in 2016, 517 warnings and 14 citations. Violating Kingman’s hands-free ordinance is a primary offense, which means officers can pull over a driver for no other reason than a violation of the ordinance.
“It was a citizen-driven initiative in regards to the City taking a look at implementing a hands-free ordinance,” said KPD Chief Bob DeVries. “We were supportive of it because, quite frankly, efforts at the state level had failed repeatedly to follow suit with a lot of the country in implementing a hands-free ordinance.”
DeVries applauded Council for approving the ordinance, as he says there’s “no doubt” distracted driving is an issue.
“I applaud the Council for moving forward with what I see as a significant issue in the community and across the state,” he said. “The prevalence of the phones, there’s no doubt there’s distraction that’s occurring. I can’t count the number of close calls I’ve had on the roadway with drivers that are just not paying attention and heavily involved in a conversation on the phone.”
So if distracted driving, specifically in regards to cellphones, is such a problem, then why are so many more warnings being given rather than citations?
DeVries believes law enforcement should never be used as a revenue generator, a sentiment his department applies to all traffic laws, including the City’s hands-free ordinance.
“It’s frustrating from our aspect when you hear that law enforcement is out there as a revenue generator for the City,” DeVries said. “Law enforcement should never, ever be involved in revenue generation. Our officers, by my direction, have the ability to issue either a verbal warning, a written warning, or a citation.”
The goal, he said, is to change driver habits and perhaps use those situations as teaching moments.
“What we are trying to do is change driver habits, we are not revenue generators,” the chief said. “We are trying to get the drivers to conform with the laws and be safe on the roadways for everybody else. Our staff, by my direction, has the ability to take that circumstance and use it as a teaching moment.”
However, if one is a repeat offender of Kingman’s hands-free ordinance, the time for warnings has come and gone.
“I would say if not all, a high percentage of them were repeat offenders,” DeVries said of the 25 citations given in 2018.
Along with court assessments, a first offense will result in a $100 fine, with that fine doubling to $200 for the second offense. Subsequent offenses within a 24-month period will yield a $500 fine.
“The end goal here with the hands-free or with any of them is not revenue generation, it’s creating a safe driver and changing bad habits,” DeVries said of the hands-free and other traffic ordinances.
A statewide ban on cellphone usage while driving is currently making its way through the Legislature. While DeVries said passage of that measure wouldn’t do much for Kingman in terms of enforcement as the City already has a hands-free ordinance, he noted it would make for uniformity around the state. That translates to less confusion for drivers, both local and those making their way through town.
For example, someone employed at the Kingman Airport and Industrial Park could be on the phone leaving work, abiding by the law. However, if that call lasts until the driver enters Kingman, all of a sudden they’re in violation of the hands-free ordinance.
He said passage would rid the state of the “checkerboard approach” to using cellphones while driving. He also said it would take away ambiguity of the laws, and hopes it will lead to better compliance with Kingman’s ordinance. But he said it’s unfortunate that it took the death of Clayton Townsend, a Salt River police officer killed earlier this year by a texting driver, for the issue to gain attention.
“I don’t think there’s a text or a phone call that is so important for an individual to take where it may distract them to the point of getting involved in a collision, injuring or killing someone,” he said. “No call, no text is worth that.”