MESA, AZ — A full year after Arizona passed a new law aimed to stop distracted driving, the Mesa Police Department handed out tickets in areas known for offenders and crashes Thursday.
For some, it’s hard not to do it while driving. You take your eyes off the road for a moment to peep at your phone, but it’s against the law and other drivers take notice.
”I feel like they’re gonna cause an accident,” said Diamond, who was preparing to cross a busy Mesa intersection.
“It’s scary because they don’t know what you’re doing and you’re trying to get out of the way,” said another driver, Michael Love.
A few months back, Joe Merrell got a distracted driving ticket. He said it cost him $150 and an afternoon in a driving class. Fines increase for repeat offenders.
Merrell said he was just holding his phone up to his ear to listen to a podcast when he got pulled over.
“I told the officer, ‘no I wasn’t on my phone, I was listening to a podcast,’ but he didn’t care because I was obviously on my phone,” said Merrell.
His office is at Southern Avenue and Val Vista Drive in Mesa, one of the areas Mesa police measured to be known for distracted drivers and car crashes.
So to crack down, the traffic unit increased patrols in the area. On Thursday, 15 distracted driving citations were given out at Val Vista and Southern over a four-hour period, and 20 citations were issued 10 minutes west of there at Stapley Drive and Broadway Road over a two-hour period.
“Through COMPSTAT reporting, locations within the City of Mesa with high vehicle collision occurrences were identified. The Mesa Police Department Traffic Unit will conduct saturation patrols in those areas and if they identify drivers partaking in distracted driving behaviors they will be stopped and cited,” said a Mesa Traffic Unit Lieutenant via email.
As of January of last year, it’s illegal in Arizona to talk or text on a cell phone unless the device is in hands-free mode. That includes tablets, music, or gaming devices.
The state says drivers can’t even have their phone perched on their shoulder to talk.
However, drivers can start or end a GPS route or use their phones in an emergency situation.
In the first full year of the new law, the state issued 7,169 citations and 6,002 warnings.
Back at Val Vista and Southern, Merrell walked out to the parking lot of the auto shop he works at to show a hole in a concrete barrier.
“This was caused by a distracted driver,” he said.
Months after Merrell got that ticket, he was reminded of how much worse it could have been. He said a driver trying to avoid a distracted driver at the intersection smashed into that wall.
He says if it wasn’t for that ticket, the hole could have been caused by him.
“I tell all my friends and family, don’t do it,” he said.