The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the proliferation of cellphones, dashboard infotainment screens and other distractions is contributing to an increase in traffic accidents and deaths.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star 2014

Texting and driving, among other uses of handheld electronic devices by motorists, will soon be a primary offense in the Tucson city limits, the City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday.

That means Tucson Police Department officers will not have to see or suspect another violation to be able to pull drivers over and cite them for using an electronic device, which they currently must do because violations are secondary offenses.

Fines for the civil violations were substantially reduced, from $250 for a first-time offense to $50. Second and third citations come with $100 and $250 fines respectively. As long as a device is equipped with a hands-free setup, use is permitted, according to the text of the ordinance.

Violations of comparable ordinances in unincorporated Pima County and Oro Valley are already considered primary.

Councilman Steve Kozachik, who voted for the change, said the secondary status of the original ordinance made it “virtually worthless.”

“We’re just joining the rest of the region,” he said of the move to a primary infraction.

Councilmembers Regina Romero and Richard Fimbres voted against the change. Romero was concerned about the possibility of black and Latino drivers being disproportionately impacted and questioned the effectiveness of ordinances in reducing distracted driving, which she said is a serious issue.

“I do not think that laws change attitudes,” Romero said. “And I don’t think we’ve done enough in the prevention and education elements.”

The council agreed that enforcement data should be tracked over the next nine months to ensure there aren’t such impacts on Tucson minorities.

Prior to the vote, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus told the council his department has received almost no profiling complaints recently. TPD also asked the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona if the organization had received complaints regarding traffic enforcement, which Magnus said was not the case.

Magnus was supportive of reducing the fines, which he said are now “too high.”

Since the Tucson ordinance went into effect on May 1, TPD has issued 44 citations for violating the hands-free ordinance and 18 written warnings through Nov. 30, according to department statistics.

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Pima County reporter and Road Runner columnist for the Arizona Daily Star