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Surprise could soon ban using cell phones while driving

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PHOENIX — It may soon be unlawful for drivers to use cell phones and other handheld devices while driving through Surprise.

The Surprise City Council discussed the proposed ordinance on Tuesday.

Councilman Skip Hall, who proposed the ordinance, said it would let police officers issue a citation of up to $250 to drivers caught texting, talking on a cell phone or otherwise using a hand-held device. Using a phone when it’s in hands-free mode, such as through Bluetooth, would be exempted.

“A car can be a dangerous device if you don’t pay attention to it while you’re driving,” Hall said.

Hall had been thinking about proposing the city ordinance for some time. He decided to move forward after seeing a mock car crash acted out by Willow Canyon High School students in March. One of the teen drivers in the mock crash was distracted and drunk.

“I looked at all those kids, and it had an emotional connection with me,” he said.

There is no statewide law banning drivers from using cell phones and other hand-held devices, but several counties and cities in Arizona have passed similar ordinances.

Some cities, including Phoenix and Flagstaff, prohibit texting while driving, while Tempe’s distracted-driver ordinance lets police officers cite drivers for talking on the phone or texting if they pose a risk. In Tucson, police officers can issue a ticket to anyone caught using a cell phone while driving.

Hall said his proposed city ordinance aligns with the city’s “Drive Wise, Surprise” campaign designed to create a culture of safe driving in the city. He said cell phones can distract drivers and that can lead to car crashes.

In 2016, nearly one in ten fatal crashes were reported as distracted-affected crashes and 60 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“We need to really look at this and do what we can to reduce these kind of accidents, and put it on the top of people’s mind that driving is the primary reason they’re in the car, not talking on the phone,” he said.

The Surprise City Council plans to vote on the proposed ordinance in August.

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