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Cellphone ban for drivers in Surprise goes into effect Thursday

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PHOENIX — A law banning cellphone use while driving in the West Valley suburb of Surprise goes into effect Thursday.

Under the ordinance, which was approved by the City Council last month, drivers in the city limits may operate phones and other mobile devices only in hands-free mode.

Violators will be subject to fines of up to $250.

On-duty public safety workers and drivers using phones to communicate with emergency personnel are exempt from the regulation.

Two-way radio communication remains legal, also, as long as the vehicle is being operated safely.

Sgt. Tim Klarkowski, public information officer for the Surprise Police Department, said the law is an extension of the city’s “Drive Wise, Surprise” program.

“That campaign was started because we noticed a trend that each year we were seeing an increase in our number of traffic collisions,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

“The whole idea behind it was to reinforce positive driving behaviors, to discourage the negative driving behaviors and create a culture of safety.”

Klarkowski said officers will primarily issue warnings to violators during the first month.

“That’s not to say that we won’t do citations in some extreme circumstances,” he said. “But by and large our goal is just to educate during those first 30 days.”

To avoid being cited, and to be safer, Klarkowski said drivers should set up the hands-free functions on their cellphones. Also, those using devices for navigation should pull over if an address needs to be changed.

“Putting in that address in your phone isn’t going to do you any good if you get yourself into a traffic collision and you hurt yourself or somebody else,” he said.

There is no statewide law banning drivers from using cellphones 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 cellphone while driving.

Klarkowski emphasized that following the new law is just one facet of safe driving.

“Recognize that distracted driving does have many different faces, and all of them can be deadly,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.

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