Wismer: New distracted driving law takes hold Jan. 1

Posted 12/23/20

Beginning January 1, 2021 the use of portable communication devices while driving will become a violation of civil traffic statutes for which law enforcement officers may issue a citation.

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Wismer: New distracted driving law takes hold Jan. 1

Posted

Beginning January 1, 2021 the use of portable communication devices while driving will become a violation of civil traffic statutes for which law enforcement officers may issue a citation.

In addition, city and county authority to regulate this activity will cease to exist.

In April 2019, the Arizona Legislature passed, and the governor signed into law, this distracted driving measure. From that point in time through Dec. 31 of this year, unless cities and counties had on the books ordinances that prohibited this activity, law enforcement officers could only issue violation warnings.

However, that situation soon changes.

With but a few exceptions, operators of motor vehicles may not use portable communication devices (defined as cellular telephones, portable telephone, text-messaging device, a personal digital assistant, stand-alone computer, global positioning system receiver or something substantially similar) while vehicles are in motion.

Some exceptions include: 1) permitting drivers to use such devices while operating vehicles if they are doing so in conduction with an ear piece, headphone or a device worn on a wrist designed to conduct voice-based communication; 2) use of devices, including those embedded in vehicles, that allow communication without the use of either of the driver’s hands other than to activate or deactivate it; and 3) reporting illegal activity or summoning emergency help.

This is a primary offense, meaning the officer need not observe and cite for a violation of another civil or criminal traffic statute. In addition, the law carries mandatory minimum penalties: $75 for a first violation and $150 for a second or subsequent one.

When statutorily mandated, surcharges are included the total minimum penalties rise to $181.50 and $315.00 respectively.

Craig Wismer is a judge for the Arrowhead District of the Maricopa County Justice Court.

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