Originally Published: May 20, 2017 6 a.m.
Near the end of the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law Sen. Karen Fann’s bill banning new drivers from texting while driving.
That’s great, it’s a start.
It’s not enough.
This month, Oklahoma became the 46th state to sign a no-texting-while-driving ban into law. Arizona is one of only four states where it’s still legal for drivers to text and drive, according to Distraction.gov, the government’s official website for distracted driving. Fann’s bill adds the restriction only to provisional drivers — those who are learning and do not yet have their regular driver’s license.
Distracted driving kills nine people each day in the United States, but Arizona lawmakers have been slow in addressing this life-and-death issue with a broad, all-inclusive stroke of law.
Fann’s bill, the state senator from Prescott has said, is designed to teach the newest drivers good driving habits. At least two other bills this session, which would have instituted a full ban, for all drivers, failed for lack of lawmakers’ support. Some legislators were even reluctant supporters of Fann’s bill, calling it the “camel’s nose under the tent” — something they don’t like — meaning her ban on only a portion of drivers is a foot in the door to expanded texting bans in the future.
We’re fine with that. Bring on the bans, because people are dying out there and drivers of ALL ages text and drive.
In lieu of a state law prohibiting texting while driving, some governments are doing it themselves.
On May 2, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved its own distracted driving law. Pima County’s hands-free ordinance goes into effect June 1. It will prohibit the use of any electronic device while driving. According to the ordinance, drivers may not use a handheld electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on a street or highway unless that device is specifically designed or configured to allow hands-free use and is used in that manner.
Also, Oro Valley adopted a similar law in January, and Tucson began issuing citations after its ordinance went into effect May 1. Numerous Arizona cities have taken action by enacting distracted driving ordinances.
For Yavapai County, supervisors Rowle Simmons (District 1) and Jack Smith (District 5) said this week they have not had the discussion yet over a local ban. “Everybody, in general, was waiting to see what happens with Karen’s bill,” Simmons said, “and we will have the discussion.” Both Simmons and Smith believe her bill is the “watered down version,” since it does not prohibit everyone from doing it.
“It’s not just the teenagers, everybody is texting and driving,” Simmons added, referring to young and old texting or using cell phones behind the wheel.
Smith said “hands-free options work well, but it’s not enough. Personally, I don’t want to step on the state’s toes when it comes to driving rules … for me, quite honestly, it needs to be state-driven, across the board.”
Smith added that we can expect to see more attempts next session at a statewide ban.
While the Courier editorial board eschews more government regulation, making our roadways safer is sorely needed.
We wish the driving public would do this on their own, but that’s not happening. They continue to text and drive, and people continue to die.
With the way the discourse went this spring among lawmakers in Phoenix, Yavapai County should not be waiting. Now is the time to follow the lead of Pima County and others, to enact a local ban.