Shouldn’t surfing Facebook while you drive be against the law? “Heck no!” says the leadership in our state legislature. As we have detailed in earlier blogs (Driving and Cell Phone Use and Don’t Text This), there are exactly two states with no legislation regulating cell phone use while driving: Arizona and Montana. And this political resistance is apparently so entrenched that legislative leaders will not put forward any bill that bans all forms of texting while driving.
Every year since 2007, including 2015, Sen. Steve Farley of Tucson introduces a bill banning cell phone use while driving. Every year it goes nowhere. Senator John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Government, and his hearing on the bill this year was videotaped. Kavanagh declared legislation such as Farley proposed would never pass. He refused to give his support to any bill unless it was limited to prohibiting onlythe sending of text messages while driving. Kavanagh said, “I’m not saying reading while you’re driving is a good thing to do. But it’s not as dangerous as looking down and entering text while you’re driving.” Kavanagh seemed to think that the Legislature might pass a bill that only outlawed typing out a text while you drove. But that was as far as he’d go. Reading a text, watching a video, taking a selfie—all ok.
Study after study has established that both writing AND reading texts will reduce a driver’s reaction time more than being legally drunk. And people watching videos while they tried to drive? No surprise: they were also way worse than drunk drivers. So, while our elected representatives throw the book at drunk drivers because of the danger they pose, the guy swerving all over the road while laughing at emojis gets a pass. That’s just the way we do things here in Arizona.
Another tragic irony of the committee’s vote is that it agreed to the amendment after hearing testimony from several family members of Officer Tim Huffman, a DPS officer who was hit and killed by a fuel tanker going 65 mph while he was investigating an accident on Interstate 8. The dashcam inside the tractor unit established that the driver had been looking at Facebook for at least 8 seconds prior to impact with Huffman. All of the committee members heard this story. Several teared up. All pledged to do all they could to prevent another tragedy of this sort. Then they didn’t. Instead, they voted in an amendment to Farley’s bill which, they all admit, means it would not even apply to the Facebooking truck driver.
What is so radical about this idea? Maybe the other 48 states have this one right, and it’s Arizona that is out of step. Please contact your state senators and ask for unqualified support of Senator Farley’s original bill. To contact your senator, all you need know is your legislative district, and then go here. If you do not know your legislative district, you can identify it by going here. Let’s at least give the Huffman family a law that responds to the tragedy they’ve experienced, and has the potential to prevent others. Please contact your state senator and demand that Arizona find enlightenment and leave Montana behind.