Arizona’s leaders will (finally) ban texting while driving

Let’s pass this bill for those who’ve lost loved ones to distracted driving.

After 11 years of trying, Arizona is poised to join 47 other states that ban texting while driving.

In fact, our leaders appear ready to ban not only texting but the use of any hand-held electronic device while driving.

Here … in Arizona …

I know, right?

House Speaker Rusty Bowers will bring a Senate-passed texting bill to the floor for a vote on April 18 – over the objections of a fair number of his fellow Republicans.

It should pass.

In fact, it should have passed a long time ago.

Since 2007, Arizona’s lawmakers have been asked to outlaw the far-too-common practice of careening down the road while texting, checking your Facebook status or otherwise fiddling with your phone when you’re supposed to be paying attention to what the heck you’re doing. (Driving, that is, not thumbing a tiny keyboard.)

Since 2007, the Legislature has steadfastly refused to ban on texting while driving. Never mind that your risk of getting into a crash or near-crash is 23 times greater if you’re doing it, according to a now 10-year-old study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Here’s what’s changed

Arizona is one of three states where texting and driving is legal for all or some drivers. A new bill aims to ban handheld-phone use while driving. Thomas Hawthorne, The Republic |

This year, however, a couple of things have changed that are finally bringing sanity into the state Capitol.

Andy Biggs is no longer in the building. The former Senate president-turned-congressman was the Legislature’s most passionate opponent to a texting ban, contending that the state’s more generic traffic laws can be used to cite distracted drivers. (If you’ve drive on Arizona’s roads, you know how well that’s working.)

Texas, bastion of conservatism, finally saw the light last year and became the 47th state to try to outlaw about texting while driving. But it took the deaths of 13 people – killed, police say, after a texting driver crossed the center line and hit a church minibus – to make it happen.

Salt River tribal police Officer Clayton Townsend – a man with a wife and a child just 10 months old – won’t be around to see his baby grow up. Officer Townsend was killed in January during a traffic stop on Loop 101.  A witness told police he was hit by a driver who crossed multiple lanes of traffic while looking down at his phone. The driver later told police he was responding to a text from his wife using his phone’s voice-to-text feature.

Republicans’ control of the House has slipped to a bare 31-29 margin after last year’s election. Most Democrats will support the bill and enough Republicans should go along with it to let sanity reign on the streets of Arizona.

Here’s what the bill does

Senate Bill 1165 would bar the use of any hand-held electronic device while driving. A driver could use a cell phone while parked or stopped at a red light or a railroad crossing or to report illegal activity or call for help.

Hands-free communication would be allowed as long as you aren’t holding or supporting the phone.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Gov. Doug Ducey has said he would sign it. 

It would override 12 cities and counties that have passed various forms of anti-texting ordinances, giving drivers certainty on what they can — and cannot — do.

The House also will consider separate bills to make cell phone use a secondary offense, meaning you couldn’t be pulled over for it, and a broader bill aimed at distracted driving. That was part of the agreement Bowers made with his caucus to put the cell phone ban up to a vote on Thursday.

I was wrong

Three months ago, I predicted that Officer Townsend’s tragic and totally preventable death would prompt our leaders to do … absolutely nothing.

I did so based upon years of hearing them argue passionately that the state’s existing distracted-driving laws are good enough. Never mind that Arizona doesn’t actually have a law against distracted driving.

I did so based upon years of hearing them point out that there’s no specific law against a woman putting on lipstick while driving, or a man eating a Big Mac while driving and hey, couldn’t that cause an accident, too?

I did so based upon my certain knowledge that Arizona’s GOP-controlled Legislature wasn’t ready to come into the 21st Century and confront this problem that every one of us sees on the road every day.

They didn’t do it in 2013, after all, when Department of Public Safety Officer Tim Huffman was killed by a trucker scrolling through Facebook while driving down Interstate 8.

They didn’t do it in 2016 when retired Phoenix firefighter Tom Hall was killed when his motorcycle was hit from behind by a driver reaching for her cellphone while barreling down State Route 69 near Prescott Valley.

They didn’t do it later that year, when 16-year-old Chloe Schneider, was on her mountain bike and hit from behind and killed by a driver who was speeding and talking on her cellphone in Buckeye. 

The fact that they now, at long last, appear ready to at least try to stop the carnage?

I am absolutely delighted to report that I was wrong.

And here’s a pair of words you rarely hear from me when it comes to the state Capitol:

Thank you.