COCHISE COUNTY — It’s been more than two months since the state statute prohibiting dialing and texting on a cell phone while driving took hold Surprisingly, law enforcement has either failed to catch motorists in the act or drivers are actually following the rules.
But while the citations to violators have been minimal in both Sierra Vista and unincorporated Cochise County since the cell phone statute became official on Jan. 1, Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said Wednesday that the one citation that’s been given out so far by a deputy almost ended in a crash because the motorist was not paying attention.
And while the cell phone law has been in effect on Fort Huachuca and other installations for the past several years, Garrison Commander Col. Jarrod Moreland recently admonished motorists on post who’ve been spotted driving with one hand while holding their cell phone in the other.
“I’ve received notification that there’s an increase in, or at least a noted increase in, cell phone use not hands free as people are driving around in their vehicles,” Moreland said in a video on Fort Huachuca’s main Facebook page on March 8. “I want to reiterate that on this installation and any other federal installation, the only way you’re authorized to use a cell phone is in the hands-free mode.”
Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton said Wednesday, “Periodically we have to remind people.”
For the most part, motorists in Sierra Vista and unincorporated Cochise County have been adhering to the state statute, or being very good at hiding their cell phones while simultaneously driving and talking.
Last week Sierra Vista Police Sgt. Brian Sebastian said that since Jan. 1 when the state statute became official, officers had issued only two citations to motorists caught in the act of driving and holding a cell phone. Since that time, only seven warnings had been given, Sebastian said.
Capas, of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, said there has been only one citation issued so far by deputies in her agency since the statute took effect, but that incident could have ended badly.
“A Sheriff’s deputy advised that his first citation was last week and was the result of a driver talking on his cell phone and almost causing an accident with the deputy,” Capas said in an email.
Sheriff Mark Dannels was not surprised that the distracted motorist almost caused a wreck.
“I have seen too many people, younger, older and all ages in between, creating traffic hazards by using their phones while driving,” the Sheriff said. “There are many published studies that prove distracted driving is unsafe driving. I want to encourage everyone to pay attention to this law. We will be.”
Last fall, Sierra Vista Police Chief Adam Thrasher told City Council members that police would launch a campaign in December 2020 informing the public that the law would be taking effect on Jan. 1 and that anyone caught violating it would be cited.
Before January, motorists caught driving while glued to their cell phones were given a warning by police or Sheriff’s deputies.
Violation of the statute would translate into a civil citation. According to the statute: “Beginning January 1, 2021, a person who violates this section is subject to a civil penalty as follows: At least $75 but not more than $149 for a first violation; at least $150 but not more than $250 for a second or subsequent violation.”
Writing a text message, sending it and reading it while driving is also against the law, according to Arizona Revised Statute Section 28-914 — Use of portable wireless communication device while driving.
Moreland of Fort Huachuca, meanwhile, said he is “asking our DES teammates to step up the ticketing and observation of those individuals who are not following the prescribed methods and rules for using cellular phones.” DES stands for Directorate of Emergency Services.
The garrison commander said anyone stopped for not following the statute would be “held accountable on the spot,” by DES personnel.
“That’s a huge safety issue,” Moreland said. “We don’t want one single accident or injury related to someone not paying attention because they’re messing around with their cell phone.”