County cell phone policy approved

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By Martin Salazar

San Miguel County employees are no longer allowed to use cell phones while driving during working hours under an administrative policy approved by the San Miguel County Commission this month.

Many municipalities, including the city of Las Vegas, already have ordinances making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving for all motorists, unless the driver has a hands-free device. San Miguel County’s new policy, however, takes it a step further, even prohibiting its employees from using cell phones with hands-free devices while driving.

In justifying the ordinance, county administrators say the majority of research indicates that cell phone use while driving is contributing to injuries and damages. And that same research, they say, shows it’s just as dangerous for drivers to use cell phones with hands-free devices.

The policy applies to both county-issued and personal cell phones, and to employees whether they’re in county or personal vehicles.

The policy requires employees to pull over in order to talk on a cell phone or text.

Although commissioners approved the new policy unanimously at its Dec. 11 meeting,
they had a spirited discussion before taking the vote.

Commissioner Ron Ortega said the use of cell phones while driving is prevalent, and he questioned how the policy would be enforced. He also noted that the policy doesn’t contain consequences for employees who violate the policy.

County Manager Les Montoya said it would be up to supervisors to enforce the policy.

Beyond that, he said, the policy is meant to put employees on notice that they could be personally liable if they have an accident while in violation of the policy.

And he said the policy would help the county with its liability insurance.

“It’s all about safety,” Montoya said.

Commissioner Arthur Padilla said that if the county failed to approve the policy, it could face liability if an employee causes an accident during working hours while on a cell phone.

Kiki Arellano, the county’s human resource supervisor, said the policy would also raise awareness for employees about the dangers of using cell phones while driving.

The policy is more directory than mandatory in order to bring awareness to a serious situation, County Attorney Jesus Lopez told commissioners.