Beginning July 1, drivers cited for using their cellphones while driving will face an increased fine of $297, under a new state law enacted last year. Additionally, drivers cited while in a school zone or construction zone will face an even steeper penalty of $347. Previously, the fines ranged from $100 to no more than $200 for a first offense, and up to $500 for multiple repeat offenses.
The new law bans drivers from using: cellphones, text messaging devices, paging devices, personal digital assistants, laptop computers, video games and digital cameras. The ban does not affect audio equipment such as radios or compact disc players; equipment installed for navigation or emergency assistance to the driver; or video entertainment to passengers in the rear of the vehicle. Additionally, hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth devices, are still legal for drivers 18 or older.
While the penalties increased, the new law has eliminated the mandatory court appearance for drivers cited, due to the congestion these violations have previously caused the court system. The citation will now be treated as a traffic infraction instead of a traffic offense.
It is also important to remember that individuals are still in violation of the law if using a cellphone at a stop light or stop sign. The only way to use your cellphone safely is to completely pull over to the side of the road, in a manner that does not block traffic, with the engine turned off. However, the safest way to use your cellphone is to wait until you reach your destination.