Cell phone use while driving now illegal

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IT is now illegal for motorists to use mobile electronic devices while driving vehicles.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has signed House Bill 21-35, now Public Law 21-17, which finds that “there are significant safety concerns regarding the widespread practice of using cellular telephones and other mobile electronic devices while operating motor vehicles.”

Many vehicular accidents are the result of drivers operating motor vehicles while texting or using their mobile telephones, the new law stated.

“Accordingly, it is in the best interests of the health and welfare of the residents of the CNMI to establish safety guidelines for the use of mobile electronic devices while operating motor vehicles.”

Asked about the new law, which was authored by Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez, Chief Prosecutor John Bradley said it adds a traffic offense to the criminal law.

He said this means that police officers may stop and issue a citation to a driver who is observed violating the new law.

“As punishment is limited to a fine, the officer is limited to issuing a citation and not making an arrest. Of course, if the officer discovers any violation [punishable by incarceration] during the traffic stop (for example, the presence of illegal drugs), the officer may then make an arrest,” he added.

The new law provides for a minimum fine of $300 for first offense and $500 for second offense.

“That’s quite a bit higher than the majority of traffic offenses, which have a minimum fine of $25,” Bradley noted.

“That increased fine reflects the serious dangers associated with using a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle,” he said.

He added that police might face some difficulty in enforcing the law, “because many cars have windows darkened by tinting, making it hard to see inside.”

But citizens can help officers enforce the law by reporting violations, and passengers can help by reminding the driver to put down the phone while driving, Bradley said.

He said the new law is “an excellent reminder to drivers that they must remain attentive to operating a vehicle safely.”

“Talking on a cell phone, especially if the phone is in the driver’s hand, can cause a distraction that leads to deadly consequences,” Bradley added. “The governor and the Legislature are congratulated for improving public safety on the road.”

The new law exempts emergency responders from using mobile electronic devices while operating an authorized emergency vehicle in the scope of his or her duties.

In 2017, the Department of Public Safety stated that a total of 218 crashes were blamed on distracted driving. Distracted driving involving the use of phones and mixing betel nuts and other things while driving accounts for many number of crashes in the CNMI, DPS added.


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