The Nogales Police Department has begun enforcing a citywide ban on handheld phone use while driving and is ready to penalize offenders as early as July 1, even though a similar state measure that went into effect this spring won’t be enforced with penalties until next year.
The city council passed the municipal ordinance on May 1 and, in posts published to Facebook and Twitter earlier this week, NPD stated that the law had taken effect on June 1.
Speaking on Wednesday, NPD Chief Roy Bermudez said that his department had not yet stopped anyone for violating the ordinance and that his officers would not immediately impose fines for violations.
“We’re going to do 30 days of notifications and outreach and basically warnings,” he said.
“The officers have the discretion to go either way after July 1 with a citation or a notice or a warning,” Bermudez added. “Again, it all depends on the egregiousness of the violation.”
The fate of the city ordinance had been thrown into question after a statewide law prohibiting handheld phone use by drivers was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on April 22.
The state law includes a warning period until Jan. 1, 2020. After that date, the state measure will supersede all similar local regulations.
But the language of the state law raised questions about whether local rules could be enforced before 2020.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, previously told the NI that Nogales would not be able to enforce the local ordinance because it had been passed after the state bill was signed.
However, days later, Interim City Attorney Michael Massee issued a memorandum asserting that the state law did not prohibit the enforcement of local ordinances prior to Jan. 1, 2020.
NPD’s latest statements mean that the department is acting on Massee’s interpretation.
Bermudez told the NI that his department would conduct outreach on social media and distribute pamphlets to help residents understand the law before officers begin issuing fines for violations.
Penalties for violating the city ordinance are $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second violation, and $200 for subsequent violations.
Drivers involved in a collision while using a handheld device will be fined at least $250.
An NPD educational pamphlet provided to the NI states that individuals pulled over for handheld phone use will not be asked to hand the device over to an officer.