The city of Wausau implemented a new ban Saturday, Feb. 15 on the physical act of operating a cell phone while driving.
City council members passed the cell phone ban on Tuesday, Feb. 11 and it was published on the 14th, going into full effect the next day.
The law prohibits drivers from using hand-held electronic devices, but allows hands-free devices if they are programed before hitting the road.
Toni Rayala, City Clerk for the city of Wausau, says people are no longer able to be actively talking on their cell phone while driving.
“Individuals can use Bluetooth, GPSs, and any electronics already programmed into the vehicle, but all hand-held devices are off-limits,” Rayala said.
Lieutenant Nathan Pekarske of the Wausau Police Department said the ban was passed to address the issue of distracted driving.
“It’s a safety concern. Distracted driving can be connected to many accidents and even cause fatalities. This ban will combat that,” Pekarske said.
Many motorists are frustrated when they encounter individuals who are not fully focused on the act of driving because they are engaged with their devices.
“The ban will prevent accidents. People can’t multitask and this will reduce the amount of injury accidents inattentive drivers cause,” Rayala said.
“The ordinance will help limit distracted driving, and help motorists focus on what is important, the act of driving. People can be more aware of pedestrians, bicyclists and all other traffic,” Pekarske said.
Former University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student Kyle Florence commutes to Wausau each day for work.
“I normally don’t talk on my phone when I drive but I’ve seen others and I can understand why this law has been put into place,” Florence said.
A statewide ban on texting while driving is in effect throughout Wisconsin, but only a few cities have taken the step to eliminate cell phone usage to a larger extent.
“The city of Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids have implemented the ban for quite some time now,” Rayala said.
In 2008, Marshfield banned the use of cell phones while driving unless drivers use a hands-free device. Since then Wisconsin Rapids has enacted their own ban.
Wausau is the third major central Wisconsin city to band cell phone use while driving and it is apparent other cities may follow suit.
“Neighboring cities are interested. We are having meetings with surrounding communities about the subject. The number one reason for this is so drivers won’t be confused about where they can and where they can’t use their phones,” Rayala said.
Pekarske believes the ban would be beneficial statewide but is grateful smaller communities are taking the initiative themselves.
“I’d like to see the ban statewide in the future, it would send a clear message to drivers and it would keep the roadways safer,” Pekarske said.
As of now, Wausau will be making and putting up Park-to-Talk signs at all entrances into the city to make drivers aware of the ban.
The Wausua Police Department doesn’t plan on writing citations quite yet as they wish to inform people of the new ordinance and focus their efforts on educating the public.
“This is something new. Because using a cell phone while driving is something we’ve been accustomed to, we will be issuing warnings in most cases for the first few months,” Pekarske said.