It’s no joke.
Starting Tuesday, motorists will have to put down their phones while driving in the city of Greenville or risk a $100 ticket.
The ban on all hand-held mobile devices is part of the city’s efforts to curb distracted driving and makes texting and reading emails illegal behind the wheel, according to the city ordinance.
The act of holding a phone up to or near your ear would also be prohibited, as would manipulating a keyboard or screen.
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The ban, however, does allow for hands-free use, meaning drivers can still talk, use their GPS and listen to music if the device is mounted or secured in some type of cradle or holder.
Hands-free also can mean touching a device in a holder “with one’s finger” to receive, end or initiate a function, according to the ordinance.
Greenville police spokesman Johnathan Bragg said it will be up to an officer’s discretion to issue a warning or citation, just as with any other traffic offense.
“They will simply pull somebody over if they have enough probable cause with someone using their phone, either typing on it or talking on it,” Bragg said.
The hand-held ban doesn’t apply just to vehicles on the roadway. It would also affect vehicles in public parking garages, car pool lines, stopped at traffic lights or stuck in traffic. Bicyclists, motorcyclists and those operating mopeds or golf carts have to comply as well.
Violaters will face a first-time penalty of $100, plus court costs. Fines increase with second and third offenses and can result in a judge confiscating the device.
As a reminder, motorists will soon notice bright green billboards around town telling them to “Turn it off. Put it down. Drive.”
More than 30 signs also have been installed at entrances into the city advertising Greenville as a hands-free zone, said Mayor Pro Tem David Sudduth.
While much of the ban will depend on voluntary public compliance, Sudduth said he hasn’t seen many drivers choosing to put their phones down since City Council approved the ordinance Feb. 10.
“Some people are just going to have a hard time changing, giving their phones up while they’re driving, and I think some people will have to pay a fine at least one time,” he said.
The ordinance initially began as an effort to ban texting while driving, but a city task force determined such a law would have loopholes and be too difficult to enforce, according to assistant city attorney Bob Coler.
“In order to make a meaningful impact on public safety, it really was more about distracted driving and hand-held devices than it was about texting,” Sudduth said.
The ordinance includes exceptions for law enforcement and first responders while on the job and for motorists reporting a crime or emergency.
Officials will follow up after six months to see whether the ban has had an effect on driving safety.