From this morning's local rag (this speaks for itself):
Wilkes-Barre moving to ban use of cell phones while driving, riding, walking
Published: April 1, 2010
WILKES-BARRE - Hang up your cell phone or risk getting pulled over. That's the choice Wilkes-Barre drivers and others face in less than a month after the City Council passed one of the most comprehensive cell phone safety ordinances in the country last night.
No longer content waiting for the state to act, city council last night adopted an ordinance banning the use of hand-held devices while "operating a motor vehicle, bicycle, riding on a skateboard or other self-propelled device, or walking on public sidewalks" in Wilkes-Barre, joining four other cities across the state that put similar laws in place over the past six months.
The Wilkes-Barre ordinance goes further than the others in comprehensively covering cell-phone use while operating any moving vehicle, which is defined to include "self-propelled devices" such as bicycles, skateboards, and roller-blades. Most controversially, the ordinance also bans cell-phone use on city sidewalks unless the user "remains stationary during the entire call".
Council Vice Chairwoman Kathy Kane said her motivation in pursuing the ordinance was to allow the city to curb a nationally growing problem of distracted drivers fiddling with their cell phones and make up for the lack of statewide restrictions. As for the expansion of the coverage to non-motor vehicles and walking, Kane said "it has been conclusively shown that cell phone use distracts the user and operating a bicycle while distracted can be just as dangerous as a vehicle. The United States Military bands military personnel from using cell phones while walking, as do major employers such as Sanofi. This is because of the serious safety concerns and we should be equally concerned for the safety of our citizens."
Responding to assertions that the motor vehicle coverage may not be consistent with state law, Kane told us "I think it's enforceable." "Will people like it? Probably not,", said Kane, the major proponent of the new law, "but we want to stop people from doing it. It's a real hassle, and maybe if they know if it's enforced they'll stop."
Wilkes-Barre Solicitor Tim Henry said police would begin stopping drivers, riders, and walkers on April 18.
Under the ordinance, drivers, riders, and walkers would be banned from talking, dialing, answering, text messaging or browsing the Web on their cell phone. The use of hands-free mobile devices such as Bluetooth headsets would be permitted. Unlike other towns in the state, users could be stopped and cited for simply using their phone instead of getting fined only when involved in accidents or traffic offenses such as speeding.
Mr. Henry said his office reviewed ordinances from other communities to decide which provisions could be adapted for Wilkes-Barre, including Allentown and Luzerne, which passed its ordinance in August 2009 and levies a $75 fine for violations.
"We took a look at theirs while crafting ours, of course, so we didn't have to reinvent the wheel," Mr. Henry said. "You get to see some ideas that other people had and take the best ideas from each one and incorporate it that way."
Just how much motorists could be fined remains undecided. From Ms. Kane's perspective, fines should be escalating and need to have sufficient bite to convince violators to deter chatting while driving.
"Personally, I think the higher the better," she said. "Young people don't care if it's $20 or $25."
The Council adopted fines $75 and $150 for first offenses with a grace period in effect before police officers begin handing out tickets.
"Council advised the police department for the first 30 or 45 days to pull somebody over, warn them, tell them about the ordinance," he said.
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