Drivers will no longer be allowed to use cell phones, or other handheld wireless devises, in a handheld manner while driving through designated school crossings, school zones, or construction zones while workers are present. Beginning October 1, 2019, through the end of the year, law enforcement will begin conducting traffic stops and issuing warnings to drivers observed using hand-held devices in restricted areas. Then, beginning January 1, 2020, law enforcement will begin issuing moving violations and assessing fines of $60 and 3 points against a driver’s license. First time offenders will have the option to either (i) complete an approved safety program and have the fine and points waived or (ii) provide proof to the clerk of court that equipment has been purchased to enable hands-free use of the device and pay court costs.
There are exceptions to using a wireless device in a restricted area, such as to report criminal activity or when receiving a traffic or weather alert. However, the law also limits the ability of law enforcement to prove that a driver was using a wireless device. For example, law enforcement must inform drivers of their right to decline a search of their cell phone. If a driver refuses to allow an officer to look at a driver’s call or text history, to see if the driver was using the device while driving, then the officer will have to apply for a search warrant before being legally permitted to access the cell phone. Further, law enforcement will not be allowed to confiscate the devise while awaiting the issuance of a search warrant.
But drivers should not consider the limitations on law enforcement as an opportunity to delete their call history or text messages while an officer waits for a warrant. Knowingly tampering or destroying evidence is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $5,000.
Using a device while driving is always a hazard. The law is designed to improve safety in school and construction zones and to ultimately save lives and reduce injuries and property damage by limiting driver distractions. The best option for all drivers is to utilize hands-fee options in their vehicles or to stow wireless devices until you come to a stop. Stay alert and drive safe.