Through the end of June, Payson police officers are warning drivers to put away their cell phones while on the road.

That is after the Payson Town Council on April 11 approved a new law that bans drivers from using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel.

The ordinance went into effect on May 11 and while officers can now cite drivers anytime they see them manipulating their cell phone while driving, Police Chief Don Engler said they are giving it 30 days.

During this time, officers are educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and issuing warnings.

“The Payson Police Department will enter into a period of time in which contacts will be educational in nature, however, ultimately drivers can and will be cited for a violation of the attached wireless communication device prohibition.”

So far, most motorists have been receptive to the new law, he said.

And Engler believes they are already seeing a decreased use in cell phones while driving.

“My initial opinion is we have already seen an improvement,” he said. “I am anxious to see what the numbers show” at the end of June.

Streets and roads employees have already posted signs about the new law at the entrances to town.

The law does more than just ban texting while driving. It is also illegal to hold a phone to your ear and have a verbal conversation.

“The only exception being the use of an earpiece, headphone device or device worn on a wrist to conduct voice-based communication,” he said.

Similarly, if a vehicle has a built-in interface it is exempt from the law so long as it requires minimal interactions, such as pressing a button to activate or deactivate. And these devices can “read” texts if they are translated into voice and a driver can send a text if done through voice commands.

You can still use your phone to call 911. And if parked, officers are not going to cite you for texting.

Drivers can be fined up to $149 for a first violation and at least $150, but no more than $250 for a subsequent violation.

While the town’s new cell phone ban is already in effect, the state’s new cell phone law starts Jan. 1, 2021.

In late April, Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2318, which similarly makes it illegal to physically hold or support any cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. The law bars phone conversations and writing, sending and reading text messages, emails, instant messages and internet sites.

The state is the 48th state to ban cell phone use while driving. In states with similar hands-free laws, there has been a 16 percent reduction in traffic fatalities, according to the governor’s office.

Nationally, 9 percent of fatal crashes are attributed to distraction and in 2017 distracted driving killed 3,166 people.

Statewide law enforcement are issuing warnings to drivers caught violating the bill until January 2021, when the law goes into full effect.

When the state law begins, it will replace Payson’s ordinance.

The main difference between the town’s law and the state is that the state law allows drivers to use their phones while at a stoplight (not a stop sign).

Engler said it is always safest to park before using a cell phone.

Contact the editor at abechman@payson.com

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