TUCSON, AZ - The Arizona Department of Public Safety plans to crack down on drivers who are distracted by texting or their cellphones in general.
The enforcement effort will begin in January and be accompanied by an education campaign, DPS spokesman Bart Graves said.
Graves told the Arizona Daily Star that the plan was being discussed before the traffic-related death of a DPS officer in May. But he said officer Tim Huffman's death highlights the problems with distracted driving.
Records obtained last month by the newspaper show investigators believe the driver of a big-rig truck, Jorge Espinoza, was looking at cellphone photos of scantily clad women when he slammed into police cars and emergency vehicles on Interstate 8 in Yuma County. Huffman was in a DPS cruiser hit by the truck and was killed.
"What occurred on I-8 was tragic and totally preventable," he said. "It's not just because we lost an officer. It's because we're losing people all across the state all the time."
The Legislature has repeatedly rejected a ban on texting while driving. But Graves says a state law on "speed not reasonable and prudent" will be used to cite distracted drivers.
"Any speed is not reasonable when you're texting, because you're not fully in control of your driving," Graves said.
Extra enforcement will be coupled with media messages, brochures, videos and social media.
"We want the driving public to know one true fact," Graves said. "When you're on the highway, going 55-65 mph, your full attention should be on your driving and on nothing else."
In the crash that killed Huffman, trucker Espinoza was driving an empty fuel tanker 65 mph on cruise control. The Yuma trucker has pleaded not guilty to 20 felony charges including one count of second-degree murder, 13 counts of endangerment and six of criminal damage.