By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The Marshfield Common Council unanimously voted to temporarily discontinue enforcement of the city cell phone ban for motor vehicle drivers Tuesday evening.
Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza spoke before the council and said that suspending the ordinance banning cell phone use in vehicles stems from an email he received from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) on March 4. The email raised the example of Waupaca County, which wanted to post signs on state highways informing drivers of the county’s cell phone ban.
Under state law, drivers are not prohibited from using a cell phone for verbal communication. However, all drivers are prohibited from texting while driving.
“What state statute says is that in this area of the law … you are not able to be more strict than what state law prohibits,” Gramza said.
After receiving the email and sharing it with the city attorney, Gramza said the department has not made any traffic stops related to cell phone violations since March 10.
“This does not necessarily prohibit us from writing somebody a citation for inattentive driving should the use of their cell phone have caused or been a contributing factor to an accident,” Gramza said. “You still cannot text and drive, and that is covered under state statute.”
There has been widespread sentiment in the community that the cell phone ban has not been enforced. However, Gramza said that in 2014 the Marshfield Police Department performed 167 traffic stops related to cell phone violations with 104 resulting in warnings and 63 in citations. Thus far in 2015 the department has performed 46 traffic stops related to cell phone violations, resulting in 10 citations.
“Magically, when you’re in a marked squad, people start putting their cell phone away, hiding it. It makes it more difficult to see it,” Gramza said.
Mayor Chris Meyer said that the city attorney will look at ways of making sure any cell phone ordinance falls in line with state statutes.
“I can’t promise that this (issue) will be back at the April 14 (common council) meeting, but I would expect that this would be back at the April 14 meeting. Hopefully we could have any changes recommended at that time,” Meyer said.