Hands free

Using devices that aren’t hands-free while driving may soon result in citations in Tucson, Pima County and Oro Valley.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

The two main law-enforcement agencies in Pima County are now handing out tickets to motorists who use devices that aren’t hands-free while driving. A third department will begin issuing citations in September.

The city of Tucson, Oro Valley and Pima County all have new or updated laws that prohibit holding an electronic device while driving.

On Aug. 1, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department completed its 60-day grace period that gave drivers a chance to learn about the county’s updated law without receiving a citation.

Throughout the grace period in June and July deputies handed out four citations, 361 written warnings and 386 verbal warnings to drivers using an electronic device while driving in the county, according to a department news release.

“It is the goal of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to create safer roadways through education, awareness, and enforcement. Remember, don’t drive distracted … just drive,” the department said in the release.

Violations in the county will cost $100 for the first offense and if the violation causes an accident the cost will increase to $250.

For drivers who violate Tucson city code, which went into effect May 1, there is a $250 fine for a first incident. Motorists who cause an accident or are repeat violators will incur a minimum penalty of $500.

Between May 1 and Aug. 3, the Tucson Police Department issued 53 citations to drivers.

The law was passed in March by the City Council and the offense is considered a secondary violation, meaning an officer must witness another traffic infraction to be able to cite a driver for violating the hands-free ordinance.

Sgt. Kimberly Bay, a Tucson Police Department spokeswoman, said overall the mission is to keep roads safe.

“It can wait,” she said when it comes to using a cell phone while driving. “If not, you can pull into a parking lot and make your call.”

The ordinances in Pima County and Oro Valley are primary offenses, meaning officers can pull over those who violate the law without breaking another traffic law.

Violations are handled as civil offenses.

The Oro Valley Police Department began enforcing the town’s ordinance in early January and have given warnings with informational pamphlets to drivers who violate the law.

“During the first 90 days of the new law, the OVPD issued 766 warnings to drivers who were in violation of the new regulation,” according to a department news release. “In addition, police officers and town staff handed out thousands of educational brochures and held two educational events.”

As of early August, the department had issued 1,041 written warnings to drivers holding electronic devices while driving.

Oro Valley has partnered with businesses like AT&T and other public-safety departments to promote the campaign, the release said.

On Sept. 1, the warning period will end and Oro Valley police officers will hand out citations beginning at $50 for the first offense, higher for repeat offenses.

There are specific exemptions for the law that make it acceptable to use electronic devices.

Tucson code states a driver can use a cellphone while driving during an emergency to speak with 911 operators or law-enforcement personnel. The Sheriff’s Department said the county ordinance is the same.

In a crash report published by the Arizona Department of Transportation on June 21, Pima County accounted for 11,637 of the state’s 126,845 total crashes last year, second-most behind Maricopa County.

Statewide, there were 522 drivers talking on a hand-held device involved in crashes, including 185 crashes with injuries, while there were also 220 drivers talking on a hands-free device involved in crashes, with 65 resulting in injuries. Two hand-held device users and one hands-free user were involved in fatal crashes last year statewide, according to the report.

The report stated there were 1,338 drivers involved in crashes statewide who were distracted by “other activity with an electronic device,” resulting in nine fatal wrecks. Additionally, there were 776 drivers “manually operating an electronic device” that resulted in crashes, including five fatal wrecks.

Shaq Davis is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star.