Distracted driving

Put down all cell phones, iPods, GPS devices and any other handheld electronics while driving in Oro Valley; the town’s distracted driving ordinance took effect last Friday, Jan. 6 and the Oro Valley Police Department’s high visibility, education-driven campaign against distractions behind the wheel began on Monday. 

The ordinance behind the new roadway restrictions was unanimously approved by town council during the Dec. 7 regular session, marking the end of an extensive outreach effort by the town and police department, in conjunction with various constituent groups.

Though officers will be on high alert for dangerous driving behavior, OVPD Lt. Curt Hicks said that “plenty of time” will be given to the community to fully understand the changes. As part of the introduction of the ordinance, Hicks said that officers will begin with “heavy education,” not by issuing citations.

“The goal truly is to modify driving behavior, that’s what’s important and that’s what we’re really trying to accomplish,” Hicks said. “We’re trying to reduce accidents, and how we do that is by educating the public on why they don’t want to be doing this high-risk activity. Education really is the first step; when you get down the road and you’re giving a citation, that’s really intended for people who already know that it’s wrong, and that is the next level of trying to change the driving behavior. If we can do it through education first, that’s what really matters.”

While carrying out their regular duties, officers will be looking for some of obvious signs of mobile device usage, such as drifting between lanes, delayed stopping reactions and ignoring or not following traffic signals. Though poor driving behaviors have always been an indication for officers to watch someone more closely, OVPD will now look to see if the driver is using a mobile device. If a stop is initiated, officers will be issuing drivers with an education pamphlet and warning about the violation.

Enforcement and education of the new ordinance will also tie in to the department’s High Visibility Enforcement, or HiVE, program. 

Restrictions apply to all driving activity across all public streets, including “being temporarily stopped because of traffic, a traffic light or stop sign or otherwise,” as stated in the ordinance. If there is an immediate need, language is included allowing drivers to pull over to the side of the road or off an active roadway and remain stationary while a device is in use.

Though use is limited, language is also included to allow the activation and deactivation of hands-free features. Restrictions do not apply to calls to an emergency response operator, ambulance company, fire district and rescue service personnel, law enforcement personnel, hospital or physician’s office or health clinic. Emergency service personnel are also exempt while operating an emergency vehicle within the regular course and scope of their work. 

In the coming months, OVPD plans to hold several outreach events to further educate the public about the changes and to answer any questions.

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