Arizona to finally restrict cellphone-use while driving.

The political intrigue is fascinating; was Mesnard’s distraction bill just an attempt to derail a cellphone restriction? Did citizens of Arizona really have to wait 12 years for this — even as traffic safety got worse-and-worse —  only because Farley was a Democrat and the legislature is controlled by Republicans?

Here is what I wrote over on cazbike.org:

After over a decade of waiting, Arizona will become one of the last US states to place general restrictions on handheld cell phone use. Yesterday the Arizona legislature passed HB2318 and Governor Ducey is expected to sign the bill which would require electronic gadgetry to be operated hands-free only; with certain exceptions. Credit must be given to the victims and families of victims who have pursued these laws year-after-year; as well as to former state Senator Steve Farley, as well as Brendan Lyons, a victim and also founder of Look Save a Life , and anti-distraction advocacy organization.

Brendan Lyons (center) looks on as Gov. Ducey signs

The offense will be primary, and enforcement can commence immediately once signed (emergency status), there will be with a lengthy warning period until the beginning of 2021.

The death of Officer Townsend, killed at a traffic stop by a driver who said he was texting, earlier this year appears to be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. The fact that as many as twenty seven localities in Arizona had one-by-one painstakingly instituted various ban beginning 12 years ago should cause Arizona legislators great shame in their failure to act sooner; allowing the problem to worsen, particularly after large upticks in fatal traffic crashes after 2012.

An additional bill that also narrowly passed the house yesterday, SB1141, which is a more general anti-distracted driving law. This bill, however, must go back to the Senate; so it’s fate is unclear (this did pass but was ultimately vetoed by governor).


The New Law

  • HB2318– texting while driving; prohibition; enforcement

Because the bill was a so-called striker, I’m not completely clear on what was finally passed; i think this is it, at the moment can be found at the document link to the Senate Engrossed Version.

It creates a new section, 28-914, defining more-or-less that a driver cannot do anything hand-held; the sanction, beginning immediately upon governor’s signature (this was ’emergency’ legislation) is only warning until Jan 1, 2021. After that it’s a small fine. For some odd reason, it doesn’t generate license points (section G); I assume that must have been something to do with sausage-making.

There are only small fines for violation, but some (minor) teeth have been added by adding 28-914 to the list of predicate violations that triggers a 28-672, ”Causing serious physical injury or death by a moving violation”. A conviction of 28-672 is a minor crime and can result in some more-appropriate consequences against an offending driver, like license suspension, larger monetary penalties, and traffic survival school.

The news media and public speeches have assiduously avoided mentioning this provision. Why? e.g. AZ republic; and here;

An Error? Adding it (the new statute, 28-914) to 28-672 makes sense. Strangely, it was not added to the list of predicate violations for 28-675 / 676 which heretofore always contained exactly the same list. Was this an oversight? 675/6 are effectively the same as 672 when committed by someone who has lost their driver’s license and therefore is not supposed to be driving at all; the punishments are harsher.

The Final Vote

I need to go back and watch the whole thing but there were some patently bizarre statements made on the final house vote. One particularly weird/odd/galling/stupid one was somebody was voting no because it would prevent people from getting Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts, and that would very dangerous.

the final House floor video 4/18/2019 was interesting; those voting no who “rose to explain” pretty much all mentioned they were against the bill because in their view it would take away freedom (the freedom to use a phone while driving? Nothing mentioned about driving being a privilege), and most mentioned that the bill was a “striker” — here are a few highlights; it passed the house 44-19:

“…there have been people who have driven their whole lives holding their phone up talking on their phone… who have not had an accident, myself included. Okay? We are going
to make a lot of people into lawbreakers with this bill. It did not need to go to the point where you can’t even have a phone on your person,  in your hand, supported by any means”
Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert and currently the House Majority Leader

This one about Amber alerts was really odd. Coincidentally, my phone just got a silver alert yesterday, at home,  and to my surprise it spoke the alert to me; but really, safety first, don’t attend to any phone alerts while driving; pull over/off/stop first. Duh:

What happens now when the majority leader says we’re going to make criminals out of people because they touch their phone? [which is incorrect; 28-914 is not a criminal offense, in fact it doesn’t even incur license points]
Where do we get our Amber alerts at? We get them on our phone.
Where do we get our Silver alerts at? We get them on our phone.
So now what have we done, because this phone is in my passenger seat, or in my compartment, and an Amber alert comes up and a child’s been abducted. something has happened, and that life is just as important, but i can’t touch my phone to get the vehicle description or the license plate or  if there’s an elderly person that has been lost and reported in. This is what’s wrong with bringing bills like this to the floor [referring to the bill being a “striker”; though the language already went through committee as SB1165]
Rep. David Cook R-Pinal. You may remember Rep. Cook from the things police say he said at his DUI arrest back in December of 2018.

This complaint begins with an anecdote:

“I was driving with my wife, she noticed something in the truck next to me, it was a young man waving a gun and I picked up my phone as I was driving and I called 911…”
First off, the safe thing to do would be for the wife to call 911, not the driver; second of all, the bill specifically has an exception for reporting illegal activity or emergency.
“This bill has not been vetted, goes a bit too far, and we can’t legislate common sense”
Rep. Anthony Kern R-Glendale

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The “other” Distracted Driving Bill

Rep. Mesnard’s generic distracted bill, passed the house on same day as the cell phone bill:

It is completely general; it makes no specifics about whatever caused the distraction. Hypothetically this is a much better approach; and in fact isn’t in conflict with the cell phone restriction law. The fear is it’s so general as to be virtually unenforceable. It also seems possible it was intended to derail passage of the cell-phone law, in an attempt to peel-away votes.

In any event, this bill must go back to the Senate for final passage; so it’s fate is unclear… FINAL UPDATE — vetoed with little fanfare: Transmit to Senate: 04/18/2019; Transmit to Governor:04/22/2019; Governor Action 04/26/2019 Vetoed

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One thought on “Arizona to finally restrict cellphone-use while driving.”

  1. https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/laurieroberts/2019/04/17/arizona-cellphone-ban-texting-while-driving/3502649002/

    https://www.apnews.com/3abb7ca8f2ac487eb23f2d8ef93113ae
    “Arizona, Missouri and Montana had been the only three states that hadn’t banned texting while driving. Arizona will join 16 others that bans all use of a hand-held cellphones while driving.
    The 44-16 vote on the toughest of three proposals debated by House lawmakers Thursday comes after years of inaction by the Republican-controlled Legislature…”

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