Starting January 5, 2010, if you make or receive a phone call in the city of Erie while driving, be prepared for a big fine.

Erie City Council recently passed a law banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in within the city of Erie.

Under the new law, individuals will be prohibited from “using a mobile telephone or wireless device in any way, including for voice communication, messaging, e-mailing or Internet activity while operating a motor vehicle, bicycle or any other vehicle on any street, road or highway within the city of Erie.”

Erie City Councilwoman Rubye Jenkins-Husband, who sponsored the ordinance, explained that she has been working on a cell phone ban for about nine years. “I recommended that we ban cell phone use in 2000 and, at the time, City Council tabled the idea so that the state could enact a statewide ban,” she said. “I spoke with different committees in Harrisburg at that time and nothing happened. That’s why I was really an advocate to getting an ordinance passed in the city. The overall objective of the ban is public safety.”

Drivers who violate the ban will be fined $150 to $300 for each offense.

“There are many studies and reports showing the risk of handheld phones while driving,” Jenkins-Husband said. “Studies have shown that when you talk and drive at the same time, you quadruple the risk of injuries to yourself and others.”

Several exceptions do exist and include hands-free use, including dialing without the use of either hand; use of a mobile device to call 911 for emergency assistance or to report a traffic accident or unsafe driving by another motorists; and use of a mobile device while the vehicle is stationary and in a parking lane or space out of moving traffic lanes, and not in gear.

Signs announcing the ban will be posted on major entries to the city, Jenkins-Husband said.

Because violations are considered a “secondary offense,” police officers will not pull drivers over for using a cell phone unless that driver was also committing another violation.

Jenkins-Husband urges motorists to pull over to the side of the road if they must make or receive a phone call or text message. “Keep yourself safe,” she said.

“I am hoping that this action by council will prompt the state legislature to move quickly on a statewide ban,” she continued. “ I would like to see a statewide ban.”

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