Peoria Woman with phone in the car

"Collisions as a result of distracted driving that cause serious injury or death will be treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a six-month presumptive jail sentence and $2,500 fine"

Peoria City Council voted at a recent meeting to amend city code and enact the new statewide hands-free law, which prohibits the use of portable wireless communication devices while driving.

The city’s new ordinance will mirror the state law, which was passed in April.

That measure, HB 2318, prohibits drivers from using any kind of wireless communication device while driving — whether talking, texting, typing or browsing social media sites — unless the device is in hands-free mode.

The new law not only applies to cellphones, but any kind of portable wireless communication or standalone electronic device.

Although HB 2318 bans handheld cellphone use while driving, vehicle operators are allowed to use their phones at stoplights and when their vehicle is parked. Drivers are also allowed to use their phones in an emergency.

For the time being, those found in violation are subject to a warning. Tickets will not be issued until January 2021.

The Legislature passed HB 2318 on April 22 after 11 previous failed attempts to pass legislation on the issue.

It was signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey later that day.

“Too many lives have been lost because of texting and driving,” Ducey said during a signing ceremony in April. “Too many families have needlessly grieved the loss of a loved one due to a preventable tragedy. I called on legislators to provide a solution that will save lives — and I am grateful for their efforts to do just that. This legislation takes important, clear and common sense steps to prevent texting and driving.”

Peoria City Attorney Vanessa Hickman said the city’s amendment will follow the state’s warning period through December 31, 2020.

“The amendment also prohibits watching or recording movies while driving, but there are exceptions to voice-based (use), such as Siri or Google (Assistant),” Hickman said during the meeting.

Once police begin to issue fines, those found in violation could be charged anywhere from $79 to $149, plus surcharges on first offenses, Hickman said. Subsequent offenses will amount to $150 to $250 charges.

Collisions as a result of distracted driving that cause serious injury or death will be treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a six-month presumptive jail sentence and $2,500 fine, she added.

Mayor Cathy Carlat was quick to point out that city staff needs to launch an education plan to ensure citizens know the city now has a hands-free law.

“Since there will be no citations for a while, we need to plan our education program so citizens know how dangerous it is to use these while driving and educate them about the dangers,” Carlat said.