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Cellphone ban for drivers could impact all of Marathon County

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Several communities have banned cell phone use while driving including Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield. When Wausau was asked to consider a similar ban, they took the concept past their city limits.

Wausau City Clerk Toni Rayala says the city’s Public Health and Safety staff scheduled an information meeting with Sheriff Scott Parks and leaders from Schofield, Weston, Rothschild, and Kronenwetter. Rayala says they discussed the pros and cons of what they were proposing and also discussed the existing ordinances in Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids. “We got input from the other communities and what they’re looking for, and if it’s a good idea, how strict it should be? Also, would it be a ban that includes dialing, texting, answering the phone, and all kinds of other things, and what would be acceptable, too, like having the hands-free device is something people argued should be fine for use.”

Wausau officials wanted to coordinate with neighboring municipalities to eliminate driver confusion about what is legal and what isn’t as they drive through the area. “It’s confusing to people. If you’re driving in these communities, you know, if you’re going from Rothschild to Weston to Schofield and then Wausau, and every one of them has a different ordinance for cellphone use, and you don’t know if you’re in that municipality or not and if you’ll get ticketed or not. We tried to get something that was the same for all of these communities.”

City Attorney Anne Jacobsen created a rough draft for the new ordinance and circulated it to the communities. Wausau City Council and Marathon County Board member Karen Kellbach is planning to bring this to the county board for county-wide consideration. That is something Sheriff Scott Parks supports. “There are county board members that are part of the initial discussion stages, and once this thing is finalized to the point that the draft is completed, we’ll be taking that up with our County Board Safety Committee.”

Parks believes the county’s Public Safety Committee will discuss this soon. Rayala says Wausau will wait until the other municipalities and the county board discuss the draft ordinance. She expects it to come back up for discussion early next year.

If approved, CB and amateur radio devices would be exempt, and using cellphones to call 9-1-1 to report emergencies or hazardous situations would also be exempt.

(Our interviews with Toni Rayala and Scott Parks can be heard on our website by clicking the hyperlinks on their names.)

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