TEMPE, AZ — It is a topic ABC15 has kept focus on, as part of our Operation Safe Roads Campaign: distracted driving.
There is a law making its way through the legislature for a statewide ban on phone use behind the wheel, but one East Valley city believes they cannot wait for that to pass. They are taking action Thursday night.
Tempe already has a hands-free ordinance that began in 2015. At the time, it was considered one of the strictest in the state.
At a city council meeting Thursday night, council members are expected to vote to take even harsher action by amending their ordinance on phone use while driving.
Currently in Tempe, a police officer can only cite a driver for texting behind the wheel if there was another offense prior to them pulling the driver over. The likely passing of the amendment Thursday night would make it a primary offense.
"Which means that an enforcement officer could see somebody holding or tapping on their phone and pull them over at that point before the erratic behavior takes place," explained City Traffic Engineer Julian Dresang.
There is concern over this that has been highlighted by those opposed to the statewide ban and the bill making its way through the legislature.
Arizona Citizen's Defense League sent ABC15 a statement last week in regards to the bill.
"AzCDL's position is that it is stupid to go after one activity, when the problem is distracted driving in general. This simply invites traffic stops," said Charles Heller in an email.
"In other words, distracting yourself chewing on a cheeseburger is fine, as long as you are not texting? There are several other better bills in the legislature right now to address the issue. Concentrate on them," Heller went on to write.
Others have expressed concern over the different ordinances and laws as drivers make their way from place to place.
Dresang said, to fix that, he hopes the statewide ban does pass. But, until then, he believes the city must do something.
"We need to take action now," Dresang said. "And so, if the state of Arizona does enact their legislation - that's great. But, if there is a time period between now and when that takes effect or if for some reason that doesn't happen at the state level, we want to make sure that our drivers are put in the safest place as possible."
The vote Thursday is expected to pass. They are also expected to "declare an existence of an emergency," which means the ordinance would be amended immediately, instead of a usual waiting period.
ABC15 has reached out to the Mayor and every single Tempe city council member. You'll find their responses below.
Mayor Mark Mitchell:
"I am proud of the City of Tempe for our work to become the first city in Arizona to pursue a Vision Zero designation. To be a Vision Zero city is to work towards eliminating all traffic fatalities and serious injuries caused by traffic accidents within your city. The city has been working with stakeholders, experts and residents to determine how we can best improve safety of our city streets. As you may know, Tempe is a multi-modal community and we have been recognized for being bike friendly. Unfortunately, we recently had a bike fatality allegedly due to texting while driving. We know this individual was a family member and friend to many and will be missed by those who loved him.
We think that by adopting these changes, we can save lives. The bike fatality has had an impact on the process and one of the recommendations coming out of the Vision Zero working groups is to move to a hands-free ordinance. We are aware that the state legislature is working on adopting a similar change. I think it will be a good thing to be able to align our ordinance with state law and educate our residents about the dangers of distracted driving. If we can be successful in saving ANY lives in Tempe, this change will be worthwhile.
With the emergency clause this ordinance will go into effect right away, however I believe that we need to have an education phase because it’s necessary to let our residents and the general public know of this change."
Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby:
"I completely support the amendments to the distracted driving ordinance recommended by our Vision Zero stakeholders and staff.
Tempe has had a number of high-profile crashes in the past year, including two involving a pedestrian and a bicyclist, resulting from distracted driving, and as studies continue to show that laws enforced as a primary offense have a greater deterrent effect than those enforced as secondary offenses, it is completely in line with our Vision Zero initiative to make these changes to make our streets safer for all who use them.
I also want to clarify something that may be unclear. The Council is not looking to declare a state of emergency around distracted driving. What we can do is introduce these amendments as an emergency ordinance due the public safety benefit. An emergency ordinance requires a minimum of six Councilmembers voting in favor, but would then go into effect immediately rather than after the standard 30 day waiting period."
Councilman Robin Arredondo-Savage:
"I completely support the amendments to the distracted driving ordinance recommended by our Vision Zero staff.
The primary goal of Vision Zero is to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and serious injury crashes to zero, and the changes to the Distracted Driving Ordinance is an important step in that direction. The changes that are proposed will make driving while using or holding a cell phone a primary offense, rather than a secondary. This will help make our streets safer for all users, bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.
Regarding the emergency clause, this only serves to make changes to the ordinance effective immediately, rather than the standard 30-day waiting period. It will require a minimum of six Councilmembers voting in favor."
Councilman Kolby Granville stated he will voting in favor of it.
Councilman Randy Keating told ABC15 by phone he would be voting in favor of it, as well.