Sheriff, corporation counsel say ordinance unenforceable
By Robert Cloud
The Waupaca County Board voted down a resolution that would have repealed an ordinance that prohibits the use of cellphones while driving.
At the board’s meeting Tuesday, July 21, 12 county supervisors voted for the resolution while 14 voted against it.
When the county enacted its ordinance banning cellphone use while driving on Nov. 12, 2008, supporters argued that talking on cellphones is distractive and leads to traffic accidents.
Since then, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has said the county cannot enforce the ordinance or issue any citations for violating it, according to Sheriff Brad Hardel.
According to a Feb. 7 email from WisDOT, “The county exceeded its authority to enact this ordinance… The ordinance clearly prohibits allowed uses under the state statutes.”
WisDOT has refused to install signs regarding the county’s cellphone ban on state and federal highways.
Hardel said the county would also be ineligible for distracted driving enforcement grants WisDOT if officers cite motorists for violating the cellphone ban.
“If we can’t enforce it, we should repeal it,” Hardel said.
Diane Muelmans, the county’s corporation counsel, told supervisors that state law prohibits texting and inattentive driving, but does not specifically prohibit cellphone use while operating a vehicle.
She also said the county does not have the authority to enact any ordinance that is more restrictive than the state law.
However, most supervisors were not convinced that the county should repeal its ban.
“There are national stats that driving with a cell phone, and that includes hands-free, is dangerous,” said Supervisor Gary Barrington, noting that the ordinance discourages inattentive driving.
Hardel estimated that 75 percent of tickets issued for violations of the state’s law against inattentive driving involve accidents.
Supervisor Gerald Murphy noted that more than 3,000 people were killed last year in crashes involving distracted drivers.
“If we rescind this ordinance, the word gets out to young people that we can use our cellphones while driving,” Murphy said.
Voting against the resolution to repeal the cellphone ban were Chairman Dick Koeppen and Supervisors Darrell Handrich, Terry Murphy, Don Peterson, Gene Sorensen, Gerald Murphy, Bob Ellis, Jack Penney, Dave Johnson, Jack Spierings, ,Bill Jonely, Bob Flease, Dave Neumann and Gary Barrington.
Voting for the resolution were DuWayne Federwitz, Dennis Kussmann, Lee Much, Dick Rohan, Don Aasen, Mary Kay Poehlman, Joe McClone, Pat Craig, Carl Kietzman, Dona Gabert, Fred Zaug and Wayne Wilfuer.