Ban on handheld devices brought no citations in first year

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One year after the City of Powell prohibited drivers from using handheld devices, it’s hard to pinpoint the ban’s exact impact.

“I’m still seeing people still not using their turn signal because they’ve got a cellphone up to their ear,” said City Councilman Scott Mangold. “But I think it has changed some people’s driving habits.”

Powell Police Department data indicates that officers handed out 50 warnings for using a handheld device — an average of about one a week — while issuing no citations in 2018, the ban’s inaugural year.

Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt suggested the relatively low numbers stemmed in part from the department spending much of the year short-staffed.

Unless a driver is, say, swerving or blowing through a stop sign while on their cellphone, “it’s probably not going to draw [an officer’s] attention when they’re running from call to call to call,” Eckerdt said.

Still, Eckerdt is certain the ordinance has made a difference.

While some people have told the chief they still see drivers on their phone, others “have talked about how they’re making a conscious effort to make a change,” he said. “And they hadn’t realized how much they were on their phone until they couldn’t use their phone.”

Mangold said one of his coworkers now “takes her phone and puts it in the cupholder right when she gets back into town.”

“And it’s even taught me ...,” he added. “I’ve heard the text pop in on my phone and I reach for it and I went, ‘Nope, I can’t do that.’”

Texting while driving has been illegal across the entire state since 2010, but Powell’s City Council went a step further by barring drivers from using any kind of handheld device. The council passed the ordinance in late 2017 and it took effect in January 2018.

Mangold had pushed for the change after being hit by a chatty driver in a downtown crosswalk.

While no one has been cited under the ordinance, Mangold said his understanding is that no one has received two warnings, either.

“So I think once someone is warned, then maybe they’re changing their driving habits,” he said. “So hopefully it’s making Powell a little safer.”

If and when someone is cited for using a handheld cellphone while driving, they’ll face a $35 penalty in Powell’s Municipal Court.

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