“Every day I drive to the office, from the house to (City Hall), I see at least 10 people driving with their phones… I see them all over the place,” Mayor Arturo Garino said at a Nogales City Council meeting last week. “Either they don’t care, or we’re not enforcing it enough.”
Last year, the mayor and council enacted an ordinance that imposed penalties on drivers who use their cell phones while driving without a handsfree device. But Garino said at the Oct. 7 meeting that the Nogales Police Department needs to do more to make local drivers follow the rules.
“People need to start getting the message out there. And the best message to get is probably being stopped by a police officer and getting a citation,” the mayor said.
Acting City Manager John Kissinger, who’s also a former chief of the police department, said NPD is ready to crack down on improper phone use with an “aggressive campaign” to improve driver safety. He said he’d spoken to NPD Commander Carlos Jimenez, who agreed that the issue continues to be a problem in the local community.
Earlier this year, NPD shared data showing that officers handed out 85 citations in the first 12 months of enforcement, from July 2019 to June 2020. But approximately three-quarters of those citations came in July and August 2019 – a smaller number of drivers were cited in the following months.
In July, NPD Cpl. Oscar Mesta said that the decline in citations meant that the rules were having their intended effect.
“We have been noticing more and more drivers utilizing bluetooth technology in their vehicles,” he said at the time in an emailed statement.
Nogales Police Chief Roy Bermudez could not be reached for comment for this story.
In January, a new state law will go into effect and supersede the local handsfree ordinance. The state regulation’s provisions are largely similar to Nogales’ rule, but will impose slightly heavier fines for violations.
At last week’s meeting, Garino said it shouldn’t be hard for police officers to identify rule-breakers.
“If I’m driving and I look over to my right and I see somebody on the phone, I’m sure any police officer can look over to his right and see somebody on the phone, too,” he said, adding: “Let’s do your job, guys.”