Using handheld devices while you are driving will soon be illegal in the state of Arizona. On April 22, 2019, Governor Ducey signed a bill into law that bans using handheld devices while driving. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021, though, police officers can give warnings to drivers starting now.
If you live in a city which has already enacted a ban on cellphone texting while driving, like Phoenix (See Phoenix City Code 36-76.01), that city’s laws will stay in effect until January 1, 2021.
What does the new law say?
The law specifically states that drivers cannot use their cellphones to talk, type/read messages or other communications, text, or watch videos while they are driving. Per AZCentral, drivers may:
- Send or receive a call while in hands-free mode
- Swipe on their phones to accept a call or make a call
- Talk if they wear earpieces or wrist-mounted accessories
- Use speech-to-text features
- Use navigation features
- Call 9-1-1
The law also affects other types of portable telecommunications and electronic devices.
Exceptions to the law
The new law does recognize that the need for cellphones in emergency situations, and so any individual who uses his or her phone in that capacity – to call for help, or to report a crime – is exempt at the time of the call. The law does not affect radios, emergency devices, on-board navigation and security features, and it does not apply to officials responding to an emergency.
There is one other odd little exception, too: people may use their handheld devices while they are stopped at a traffic light or stop light.
What are the consequences of violating the new law?
Drivers who use their phones while they are driving can be pulled over, receive tickets, and face fines. First-time offenders face fines in the $75-$149 range while second- subsequent-time offenders face fines in the $150-$250 range. Police officers cannot confiscate or examine drivers’ phones.
How bad is driver distraction in Arizona?
There were 127,064 traffic crashes in Arizona in 2017, involving 249,123 drivers. At least 9,693 of those drivers were distracted by:
- Talking on their cellphones (hands-free or not)
- Using an electronic device
- Manually operating an electronic device
- Their passengers
- Something else inside their vehicles (like eating or drinking)
- Something outside their vehicles
- Something else left unspecified
Distraction is clearly a big problem for Arizona, and with the passing of the new law, we will join 47 other states that have already instituted handheld bans.
But if we are honest, that “stop light” exception gnaws at us a bit. First, there is no reason to believe that a person scrolling through his or her phone at a red light will stop doing so immediately when the light turns green. Second, drivers should put all of their attention towards driving, even when they are stopped. (You never know what type of behavior you might miss from other drivers.) Third, and perhaps most important, is this: the whole reason for a handheld ban is to stop distracted driving. People who are stopped at lights are still technically driving; they’ve simply paused their forward motion. Including that exception seems strange to us, and potentially dangerous.
For now, however, there are still plenty of places throughout Arizona where there is no ban – and plenty of people who continue to text and driver, even if their cities have made it illegal. If one of these drivers causes you harm, Plattner Verderame, P.C., can help. To schedule a free consultation, or to request information about having attorney Nick Verderame give a talk on the dangers of distracted driving, please call our Phoenix office today at 602.783.8793 or fill out our contact form. We proudly represent our clients throughout the state of Arizona.