Soldotna council strengthens code on using phone while driving

Motorists making their way through Soldotna can now be found in violation of the city’s code for using their phones for anything other than an actual voice call.

The Soldotna City Council unanimously enacted an ordinance at its Wednesday meeting to strengthen its code pertaining to phone use while driving. The code will be amended to classify “the use of electronic screen devices while driving as a minor offense,” according to the ordinance text. The definition of using such devices was also changed to be more inclusive of more actions.

The issue came forward, according to Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik, when a police officer pulled over a driver recently for using a phone while driving. The driver had been searching for music to play on the phone, Mlynarik said, and was therefore able to fight the ticket in court because neither state law nor city code expressly define searching for music as illegal.

According to state statute, a person commits a crime if “the person is reading or typing a text message or other nonvoice message or communication on a cellular telephone, personal data assistant, computer, or any other similar means capable of providing a visual display that is in the view of the driver in a normal driving position while the vehicle is in motion and while the person is driving.”

The state law does not prohibit speaking on the phone while driving, and neither does Soldotna city code.

“Through the process of talking to our attorney, and the court process … which we lost, we found out that … since that wasn’t explicitly prohibited, that wasn’t included,” Mlynarik told the council. “So we wanted to try to … have the code capture a definition that was inclusive of anything having to do with operating a screen device other than talking on it and using it as a phone.”

The amended city code expands the definition of using an electronic screen device to encompass things that are not strictly tied to communication but are still distracting, like searching for music.

A driver commits the offense if they are driving a vehicle on a public street or highway and “using an electronic screen device for purposes other than verbal communication,” according to the ordinance.

“Basically this new rewrite says any time that you’re operating a screen device, other than for these exceptions, is evidence that you are operating in violation,” Mlynarik said. “Because our take on this is any time you’re not focused on the road in front of you and you’re looking down and texting, or looking at music or anything is dangerous, and we’re seeing more and more of this, where there’s distracted drivers.”

Nine people are killed every day in the United States due to accidents caused by distracted driving, which includes texting, talking on a phone or eating, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exemptions to the code include considerations for emergency vehicles and built in screen devices in vehicles made for navigation, music playing, etc., he said.

When a police officer writes someone up for a driving violation, they can write the ticket under the state statute or under the city’s code, Mlynarik said. If a ticket is written up under Soldotna’s code, Soldotna gets the money from the fine associated with the violation. The fine for using an electronic screen device while driving is $250, according to the ordinance.

One member of the public gave testimony before the council voted on the ordinance, and said he was in favor of strengthening the code.

Reach Megan Pacer at meagn.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Members of the community attend the first part of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska’s Food Security and Sustainability Series in August 2022. (Photo courtesy Challenger Learning Center of Alaska)
Challenger Learning Center workshop focuses on food sustainability

Gathering, growing and preserving food in the form of plants, fish and other animals will be discussed

Examples of contemporary books that have been banned or challenged in recent years are displayed on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at the Soldotna Public Library in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna library hosts Banned Book Club

Books have been challenged or banned for their content nationwide.

Nikiski Middle/High School Principal Shane Bostic stands near a track and field long jump sand pit on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. The track is one of several projects in a bond package Kenai Peninsula voters will consider during the Oct. 4 municipal election next month. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Nikiski athletes await upgrade

Funding for long-delayed school projects on Oct. 4 ballot

Lars Arneson runs to victory and a new event record in the Kenai River Marathon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
A speech, a smartphone and a bike

Circumstances lead Arneson to Kenai River Marathon record

Trees with fall colors populate the Shqui Tsatnu Creek gully as seen from Fourth Avenue on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai to use $770k in grants to remove hazard trees along Shqui Tsatnu Creek

The money will be used to mitigate hazards caused by dead and dying spruce trees over more than 100 acres of city land

Alaska state Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican, is shown seated on the House floor on April 29, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
Alaska judge keeps Oath Keepers lawmaker on November ballot

Judge Jack McKenna on Thursday ordered elections officials to delay certifying the result of that particular race

An image purportedly from the computer screen of a digital media specialist for Gov. Mike Dunleavy shows numerous files and folders of campaign advertising. A complaint filed against the governor, plus other individuals and organizations, claims administrative staff is illegally doing paid campaign work on behalf of the governor. (Screenshot from complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission)
Dunleavy faces more accusations in campaign complaint

Governor calls it “specious and unfounded.”

A recent photo of Anesha "Duffy" Murnane, missing since Oct. 17, 2019, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided, Homer Police Department)
A 2019 photo of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, who went missing since Oct. 17, 2019, in Homer. (Photo provided, Homer Police Department)
Calderwood indicted for murder

Indictment charges man accused of killing Anesha “Duffy” Murnane with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20 of that year. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai council gives Triumvirate more time to build theater

The Kenai City Council voted last summer to conditionally donate a 2-acre parcel of city land near Daubenspeck Park and the Kenai Walmart

Most Read