Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hello – Hello, I’ve Got To Say Goodbye!

What's wrong with this picture?

Over the past few days I have noticed, what I consider, a greater than usual number of drivers using hand held cellular phones while driving.

The ban on cell phone use was passed Feb. 5, at City Council on a 5-4 vote. Much has been made that the vote was cast along party lines in the nonpartisan chamber. I don’t think it much matters, after a major decision was made to make the offense punishable as a traffic code violation, instead of as a civil public nuisance, like the automated enforcement using red light cameras and photo radar vans.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez signed the bill into law Feb. 7, and the enforcement date will begin five days after publication. Publication occurred on Sunday, according to City Attorney Bob White who said in an interview that, like everything in City Hall there was a debate over whether the effective date was the fifth day or the day after the fifth day. “I settled that debate by just saying it’s the later date.” The effective date will be Sat. Feb. 17.

Chief of Police Ray Schultz also announced that talking on a cell phone would not be a primary reason for stopping a vehicle, according to Albuquerque Journal’s crime reporter T.J. Wilham in a copyrighted story. Unless an officer sees another violation while someone’s on the phone, talking will not be the sole reason to initiate a stop. Drivers should not put much stock in that though. When I worked the street many years ago, I read a study that said any driver would commit a technical violation once every mile driven. Since then, I think the level of safe driving has gone down, making it more likely that an officer may see a secondary offense. And because making the case against talking on the phone is so cut and dry, it will be an easy prosecution.

After the enforcement date, there will be a 30-day period where verbal warnings will be issued. There will then be another 30-day period where written warnings will be issued. According to APD Public Information Officer John Walsh, after the 60-days of warnings, citations will be issued.

My humble advice; don’t use your cell phone, it isn’t worth the risk.

So what's wrong with this picture?

This is a city transit driver driving an empty Sun Van west bound on Interstate 40 while talking on her cell phone. Mayor Chávez sent down an order banning the use of cell phones for city transit drivers. After getting this picture, I raised my camera again to take a safety shot and the driver held up her right hand to block her face. We were traveling in excess of 55 mph as she held her phone in her left hand. I can, at least, count to two; this means she had no hand available to hold on to the steering wheel.

I didn’t mean to cause her to try to hide and if I had so much as swerved my point and shoot photography might also be considered driver inattention.

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