Soldotna considers cellphone use ban in school zones

January 13, 2019

KENAI, Alaska (AP) — City officials in a Kenai Peninsula community are deciding whether to ban the use of cellphones and other hand-held devices for people driving in school zones.

The Alaska Legislature last year gave cities the ability to regulate the use of cellphones for motorists in active school zones and on school property, the Peninsula Clarion reported .

Soldotna City Councilman Jordan Chilson proposed an ordinance to do so. At a council meeting last week, he said school principals see parents using cellphones as they line up to pick up children.

“They’re looking down at their phone but they’re not always looking up when they’re pulling forward. . They’ve had a lot of parents getting into near accidents and nearly hitting kids,” Chilson said. “Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet, but there is a definite risk there from what I’ve been able to gather.”

Schools have signs in place warning against using screens while driving.

“The staff can go and knock on windows all day . but I think that at the end of the day, it’s not going to have the same effect as if we have a Soldotna police officer that’s able to go and have that conversation with a parent,” Chilson said.

Soldotna drivers are prohibited from using a smartphones or other electronic-screen device for anything other than voice calls. A state law bans texting but Soldotna’s ordinance covers uses such as searching for music, checking websites or scrolling through social media while driving on public roads.

The ordinance is enforceable on roadways but not school property and school zones. Chilson’s ordinance would change that.

Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik said officers do not often write citations for using a device while driving. Since 2016, the department has issued just four.

“That kind of shows you the challenge to finding people who are actually doing it,” Mlynarik said. “That said, it’s not a big workload for the department for this ordinance, but as the history shows, we’re not writing many citations on it. Having the ordinance, though, may itself be a deterrent.”

Chilson said his hope isn’t to increase citations, but to have a conversation.

“I don’t want to see people get a ticket . but if you’re driving in the school parking lot, your eyes should be on the road,” Chilson said.

Councilman Tim Cashman questioned the need for another ordinance and said signs at schools address the issue.

“You can shame people into good behavior a lot easier in the parking lot than you can regulate them with an obscure law they may or may not be aware of,” he said.

The council will revisit the ordinance Jan. 23.

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.