Last updated: September 30, 2015
Cell phone, text messaging news: Tempe has adopted a distracted driving ordinance, but it appears to be one of the weakest in the country. The new law, which comes with fines starting at $100, allows for tickets only if a driver displays a distracted behavior, such as failure to stay in his lane. Texting and talking on a cell phone remain legal. Council member Lauren Kuby said “80 percent of our citizens want to see a distracted driving law because it saves lives.” The law goes into effect Oct. 23.
San Luis’ ban on use of handheld cell phones and texting & driving goes into effect Sept. 28, following a six-month grace period. Fines: $100, $250 if an accident results. The ordinance actually went into effect in late March, but the fines don’t begin until late September. A police spokesman said the city wanted “to make sure drivers have both hands on the wheel and are focused on the road.” Kingman appears ready to follow suit (below).
State Sen. Steve Farley says he’ll be back in 2016 with his plan to outlaw texting for all drivers. In 2015, Farley attached the plan under his Senate Bill 1102 as an amendment to other legislation, but the strategy failed via an 11-5 committee vote. Senate President Andy Biggs again led the opposition in blocking distracted driving legislation in Arizona, one of the few remaining states allowing texting and driving. Biggs killed the bill by assigning it to four committees at the same time.
As in 2014, Farley proposed fines starting at $100 and topping out at $10,000 for texting drivers causing a death. “I believe it is important that the potential texting driver understand the risks he or she is taking when deciding to text and drive, and underlining the severity of the penalty can help there,” Farley told Hands Free Info. Farley has made repeated attempts to legislate distracted driving over the years.
- No state restrictions on texting or cell phone use, except for school bus drivers.
- Texting drivers might find themselves cited under the state’s law against driving at a speed that is not “reasonable and prudent.”
- In Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson, drivers are prohibited from text messaging. San Luis also bans use of handheld wireless devices. Fines in all cities are $100 or $250 (accident).
- School bus operators may not use cell phones while driving.
Distracted driving legislation (2015):
Senate Bill 1102: Would prohibit text messaging while driving in Arizona. Revised by panel (Feb. 4) to restrict to manual writing of text messages — reading incoming texts OK. Fine: $100 (first offense), then $300. If accident results, fine is $500; in case of a death, fine of $10,000. Police to note texting on accident report. Amended and approved unanimously by Government Committee on Feb. 4. “Held in committees.” (Farley)
House Bill 2343: Would bar drivers with instruction permits from using wireless communications devices such as smartphones. Also applies to first six months under class G licenses. Limited to secondary enforcement, meaning police need another reason to stop and cite violators. “Held in Rules.” (Fann)
HB 2370: Would outlaw texting while driving in Arizona. Fine: $50; $200 if an accident results. Would be effective Dec. 31. aka No Texting While Driving Act. “Held in Rules.” (Steele)
Distracted driving legislation notes (2015):
The Kingman City Council voted unanimously Sept. 15 in favor of developing a local ban on drivers’ use of handheld communications devices such as cell phones. The proposed ban would come with primary enforcement. “This is serious,” said Mayor Richard Anderson said of the distracted driving problem. The council directed the city attorney to develop the legislation.
Tempe’s City Council split on a plan to fine drivers who exhibit distracted driving behaviors while using cell phones. The issue will be revisited in August. Councilman Kolby Granville, who pushed for the ordinance, said upcoming elections may have influenced the lawmakers who resisted the plan. Fines: $100-$250.
A Yuma truck driver was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a DPS officer while using his cell phone. Jorge Espinoza’s truck rammed into Department of Public Safety Officer Tim Huffman, who was investigating a crash at the time of the May 2013 crash. Huffman’s relatives have said they’re committed to lobbying for a statewide distracted driving law in Arizona, in his memory. Espinoza was was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced July 8.
State Sen. Steve Farley’s texting & driving plan cleared the the Senate Government Committee on Feb. 4, but it was revised to prohibit only the manual entry of a text message — allowing drivers to otherwise read texts while behind the wheel. Two other distracted driving bills also died in committee.
State Rep. Karen Fann returned with her plan to prohibit use of wireless communications devices by novice drivers. This was the fourth unsuccessful try for Fann’s legislation. In 2014, her bill made it through the House but died in the Senate.
Senate Government Committee chairman John Kavanagh supported a watered-down version of the 2015 texting bill in his committee, but later voted against the plan when it was attached to an unrelated bill as an amendment. “Around here, that’s hijacking a bill,” Kavanagh said. The chairman earlier said Sen. Steve Farley’s bill wouldn’t pass if it banned all texting.
Senate President Andy Biggs says of his continued opposition to a texting & driving ban: “There are many laws on the books that are designed to punish poor driving. Each of those laws deters a person who is texting while driving. … Laws specifically prohibiting texting while driving have little effect. Such laws are virtually unenforceable. It is the other driving laws that allow the police to pull a driver over while texting.”
The Senate Government Committee heard from the family of a DPS officer killed in a distracted driving crash linked to Facebook use. “We need this law, and I ask you as legislators, please, please keep your people safe,” said the widow of DPS Officer Timothy Huffman, who was killed in 2013.
San Luis is studying a plan to ban driving while texting or using handheld cell phones. Fine: $100, but $250 if cell phone use leads to an accident. The San Luis Police Department drafted the ordinance, saying that cell phone use often was linked to local crashes.
2014 distracted driving legislation notes:
Department of Public Safety officers made 19,800 traffic stops related to distracted driving in 2014, as of mid-September. About 2,400 collisions were linked to distracted driving, DPS reported. About 3,640 drivers were stopped for cell phone-related infractions, while a slightly smaller number were pulled over the “other occupant-related issues” that included electronic media use and texting. DPS vowed that its “Highway Patrol division will continue its intensive statewide patrol effort to target distracted drivers in Arizona through education and enforcement of existing state laws.”
Almost all of the 2014 bills were reruns of previously unsuccessful measures. State Sen. Steve Farley was back with his plan to outlaw texting for all drivers, but with notably harsher punishments for those who cause wrecks. The maximum fine under Farley’s 2014 plan was $10,000, which applies when a texting driver causes a death.
Tempe’s City Council is exploring options for a distracted driving ordinance that would address texting and/or handheld cell phone use. The matter was to be picked up at October’s meeting. Police said they see “hundreds if not thousands” of accidents related to texting & driving. Council member Corey Woods is pushing for the local law.
Flagstaff’s ban on text messaging while driving went into effect Aug. 15, to be followed by a six-month verbal-warning period. The ordinance, given final approval by the City Council on July 15, prohibits texting and interacting with “nonvoice” communications devices such as smartphones while operating a motor vehicle. Fines are $100 per infraction; $250 if an accident results. Also applies to bicyclists. The city decided not to go along with Coconino County’s handheld wireless device ban, which goes into full effect in November.
Sen. Steve Farley says the Department of Public Safety is targeting text messaging drivers under the state’s law against driving at a speed not reasonable or prudent — “because there is no speed but zero at which it is reasonable and prudent to text and drive.” Farley told Hands Free Info: “So we may not get an explicit texting statute, but due to the new enforcement strategy, we have effectively banned the practice statewide at last. I call that a huge victory.”
The Arizona Highway Patrol looked at distractions and vehicle crashes in the period of late November 2013 through April 1, 2014. Cell phones accounted for 127 crashes while “outside distractions” were blamed for 255 crashes and “reaching for objects” were linked to 130. Overall, distracted driving accounted for 11 percent of the total 10,166 crashes. The Highway Patrol said it “would continue to enforce existing laws,” which don’t include texting or handheld cell phone bans. “Highways don’t kill, but distracted driving will,” AHP said.
Tucson’s texting & driving ordinance resulted in only 50 tickets in the two-plus years since it went into effect in April 2012, the Daily Star reported in August 2014.
Coconino County has adopted a ban on handheld electronic devices while driving. A county supervisor pointed to state-level inaction: “It was important that we help lead that discussion since the state was unwilling to do that.” The law, approved April 22, took effect in May and goes into full effect in November, following a six-month warning period.
State Rep. Victoria Steele, whose bill was ignored in committee, backed Rep. Karen Fann’s plan to bar use of handheld devices by novice drivers as “a beginning.” The House agreed, but the Senate didn’t. Fann, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, called it “a good compromise.” The plan called for only secondary enforcement, meaning police would need to witness another offense before writing a texting ticket.
Sen. Farley has been filing texting & driving legislation since 2007. “I will never stop,” the senator said in late 2013. “Why shouldn’t we have a law?” Steele also said she would try next session.
The Department of Public Safety began cracking down on distracted drivers in January using a law against “speed not reasonable and prudent,” a spokesman says. Arizona has no law against texting & driving or using handheld cell phones, so officials are turning to a workaround.
“Any speed is not reasonable when you’re texting, because you’re not fully in control of your driving,” DPS spokesman Bart Graves said. The crackdown will be accompanied by an education effort, he told the AP in mid-November.
2014 distracted driving legislation:
HB 2359: Would bar drivers with instruction permits from using wireless communications devices such as mobile phones. Also applies to first six months under class G licenses. Limited to secondary enforcement. Approved unanimously by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 20. Approved by the full House in a 41-17 vote of March 3. “Held” in the Senate and dead. (Fann)
Senate Bill 1147: Seeks to ban text messaging while driving in Arizona. Fines: $100 for first offense, then $300. If a crash results, fine of $500. If a death results, fine of $10,0000. Requires police to note use of wireless device in any accident report. Not heard in committee by deadline. (Farley)
SB 1163: Would bar use of handheld communications devices while operating public transportation vehicles (buses, taxis, limos). Not heard in committee by deadline. (McGuire)
House Bill 2216: Would prohibit use of handheld communications devices while driving, including cell phones. Fines: $50 or $200 if a crash results. Requires police to note use of wireless device in any accident report. Includes one-month warning period. (Sherwood)
HB 2376: Would outlaw texting with a handheld device while driving. Fines: $50 or $200 if a crash results. aka No Texting While Driving Act. Includes one-month warning period. Not heard in committee by deadline. (Steele)
2013 distracted driving legislation notes:
The director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety says a texting law isn’t needed, but more education is. “In the state of Arizona there’s enough laws in the books” to handle distracted drivers, Alberto Gutier told Cronkite News Service in November.
A Yuma truck driver was viewing images of women on Facebook as he plowed into police cars and fire trucks, a local media report alleges. The DPS officer died in the May 6, 2013, wreck.
Jorge Espinoza of Yuma, the truck driver, is charged with second-degree murder. The Arizona Daily Star reported in early November that Espinoza was using his cell phone to view photos of “several women in provocative positions, wearing little clothing.” The newspaper printed a dashboard photo taken of the truck driver during the crash, showing the cell phone in the air.
Arizona does not prohibit use of the Internet while driving, but federal DOT regulations bar the use of handheld cell phones by most commercial truck drivers. State Sen. Steve Farley, who has sponsored a string of distracted driving bills, told the newspaper that the crash shows how “oblivious” drivers are when using smartphones, and highlights the need for a statewide law.
Arizona’s Legislature considered at least four unsuccessful distracted driving bills in 2013. They included proposals for a texting ban, and bans on use of portable communications devices by novice drivers and mass-transit drivers. All were “held in committee.”
The Arizona Senate rejected State Sen. Steve Farley’s proposed ban on text messaging while driving. The 2013 vote was along party lines, with Senate President Republican Andy Biggs leading the opposition. (The proposal was made in the form of an amendment to an unrelated bill.) Farley’s Senate Bill 1218 would have banned texting as well.
The Arizona Department of Transportation says distracted driving was a factor in more than 11,100 crashes in 2012. Of those crashes, at least 200 involved a wireless communications device such as a smartphone. There were 195,762 crashes reported in the state last year, the DOT said.
State legislative leaders “are not going to do something until somebody causes a catastrophic, wish-it-never-happened accident,” said 2012 texting & driving bill sponsor Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert.
Tucson City Council member Steve Kozachik said he’s not disappointed that the city law against texting and driving resulted in few tickets in its first year. “This is more of an educational thing, quite frankly,” said Kozachik, who pushed for the ordinance.
Tucson’s law against texting and driving yielded about 26 tickets in its first year ending April 1, 2013. Violators paid fines of $100, except for four drivers who were involved in crashes while texting, and paid $250.
The Tucson law is based on Phoenix’s distracted driving ordinance, enacted in 2007. (Read the Tucson texting law)
2013 distracted driving legislation (dead):
Senate Bill 1218: Would prohibit text messaging while driving. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $300. If a crash results, fine of $300. Held in committee. (Farley)
SB 1241: Would prohibit use of wireless communications devices by drivers with learner’s permits and by those who have had their class G licenses for less than six months. Approved by the Transportation Committee (6-0 vote) and Public Safety Committee (3-1 vote) both on Feb. 5. Held in committee. (Melvin)
SB 1268: Would outlaw use of wireless communications devices by drivers with learner’s permits and by drivers with class G licenses for the first two years. Held in committee. (Farley, Tovar)
SB 1393: Seeks to prohibit use of wireless communication devices while operating a mass-transit vehicle. Approved by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 19. Held in committee. (McGuire)
2012 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 1056: Would prohibit use of wireless communications devices by drivers with learner’s permits and drivers under 18 years old who have had their class G licenses for less than six months. Fines: $75 then $100 plus restriction extensions and possible license suspension. Secondary enforcement. See HB 2331 (below). Read SB 1056 fact sheet. Approved by the Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee in a 4-0 vote on Jan. 18. Latest legislative action: Approved by the full Senate in a 23-6-1 vote Jan. 26 and transmitted to the House. (McComish)
House Bill 2125: Measure originally sought to make unrelated changes to accident reporting procedures, but a statewide texting ban was added to the bill March 2. Fines: $50 but $200 if driver is involved in accident. Latest legislative action: Approved by the House in a 45-15 vote March 5 but then reconsidered and rejected in a 28-31 vote. As many as 19 members didn’t realize vote was on texting as well as accident reporting. (Urie)
HB 2512: Would ban texting while driving. Primary enforcement, non-moving violation. Fines: $50 (no accident), $200 (accident). Approved by the Transportation Committee in a 6-2 vote of Jan. 26. (Urie)
HB 2311: Would prohibit use of wireless communications devices by drivers with learner’s permits as well as drivers under 18 years old who have had their class G licenses for less than six months. Fines: $75 then $100 plus restriction extensions and possible license suspension. For violations of cell phone/texting law, restrictions on offender’s license would be extended for six months or more. Secondary enforcement. (Farley, Hobbs, etc.)
HB 2312: Seeks to outlaw driving while distracted “in any manner.” Also, would require accident investigators to indicate whether distracted driving was a factor in a crash. (Farley, Tovar)
HB 2321: Would outlaw text messaging while driving in Arizona. Fines: $50 but $200 if driver is involved in accident. Held by Transportation Committee on Feb. 16. (Williams, Farley)
2012 distracted driving legislation notes:
At least five distracted driving bills were filed for the 2012 legislative session. State Rep. Steve Farley was listed as sponsor of three of them. No distracted driving legislation succeeded in 2011 or 2012.
The Arizona House briefly approved a statewide ban on text messaging March 5, but quickly back-pedaled with a re-vote after many members were surprised to learn that they had voted on texting. The bill was then defeated.
Rep. Steve Farley said during debate on a texting bill Jan. 26: “The types of things you do when you are texting are horrific — whether you’re running into the sides of moving trains, which has happened, or crossing over a center line and hitting a mom head-on, leaving her kids without a mom, which happened in this state in July 2007.” Farley, D–Tucson, has submitted distracted driving legislation in at least three years.
Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, says his SB 1056 would be an extension of the (novice driver) class G license restrictions that he pushed through the Legislature several years ago. “It gives parents another tool so they can say, ‘Hey, the law is you can’t use your cellphone,’ ” he told the Arizona Republic in January. HB 2311 is the House version.
State Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert, added a texting ban to HB 2125 the Friday before the House vote, but as many as 19 lawmakers failed to note the amendment. The original bill dealt only with unrelated accident reporting. Urie had inserted the wording of his HB 2512, which was stuck in committee and most likely dead.
The head of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety won’t back a ban on text messaging while driving because of enforcement concerns.
“How can you prove, from outside of a vehicle, if a person is text messaging or dialing a phone number?” highway safety director Alberto Gutier asked on KTAR radio. Gutier, a Republican, also dismissed the possibility of a handheld cell phone law, saying education could solve the problem.
The Tucson City Council unanimously approved a ban on texting while driving Feb. 23. Passage was expected, but debate centered on the issue of primary or secondary enforcement. Primary won out. Fines: $100-$250. The Tucson law is based on Phoenix’s distracted driving ordinance, enacted in 2007 with primary enforcement status.
A highway safety group rated Arizona’s traffic laws the second worst in the country, behind South Dakota. The lack of distracted driving laws contributed to Arizona’s “red” rating from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety said he was “questioning the whole ranking and the whole report.”
AAA Arizona calls text messaging “the mother of all distractions.”
2011 distracted driving legislation notes:
As the year ended, Tucson commissioners were working toward an ordinance that would ban texting while driving. Passage is expected, but debate is expected center on the issue of primary or secondary enforcement. The draft law reportedly is based on Phoenix’s distracted driving ordinance, enacted in 2007 with primary enforcement status.
In 2011, the Arizona state Senate approved a bill that sought to ban texting. Sen. Al Melvin’s SB 1538 never advanced in the House, where it was “held” until session’s end. No other distracted driving legislation emerged from committees during the 2011 session.
Rep. Steve Farley returned in 2011 with a bill that would have banned use of handheld wireless devices by under-18-year-old drivers. He has supported distracted driving legislation since 2007, but none has become law. He discusses the bill in the video below: (text continues)
The AAA says of Farley’s SB 1538: “(We) wholeheartedly support this legislation, as it would save lives by banning the most dangerous distraction on the road.”
The Yuma Sun observed March 12: “Opponents of Sen. Al Melvin’s measure (SB 1538) point out that it does nothing to address talking on cell phones — something many consider distracting — or surfing the web, watching a movie or playing a game on a cell phone. The newer “smart” phones allow all of that to be done — yes, even while driving. … It is likely there is a lot more distracted driving involving cell phones than most of us imagine. … There are many forms of distraction and trying to address it one piece at a time — as texting laws do — makes no sense. Toughen laws against distracted driving in general.”
In the 2009 session, Melvin’s SB 1443 included a provision to ban use of handheld cell phones, but that was stripped out in order to get some kind of texting ban through. Even so, Melvin’s text messaging ban failed in 2009 and 2010.
2011 distracted driving legislation:
SB 1538: Would ban texting by all drivers. Fines: $50 or $200 if an accident results. One-year warning period. Amended by sponsor to allow for texting while halted in traffic. Marked as “do pass” by Senate Transportation Committee on March 10. Latest legislative action: Approved by the Senate in a 18-12 vote on March 15 and transmitted to the House, where it was “held” until time ran out on the session. (Melvin)
SB 1111: Seeks to outlaw use of handheld wireless devices while driving in Arizona. Fines: $100 (first offense), $250 plus community service (second) and $500 plus community service (third). Fines double if accident results. “Held” in committees. (Pierce)
HB 2426: Would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 (with Class G licenses) from cell phoning or text messaging while behind the wheel. Fine: Extension of restricted period for six months. “Held” in committee as of Feb. 10. (Farley)
2010 legislation notes:
Glendale has considered a ban on text messaging that’s modeled on the Phoenix ordinance. “This should be a statewide policy,” one councilman said. “But the Legislature has failed to do it.”
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, returned with legislation (SB 1334) calling for a ban on text messaging while driving on Arizona’s roads and highways. The texting bill was shot down in a tie vote on March 2. He asked for the Senate’s reconsideration since as many as eight senators were absent. The texting while driving bill was approved on March 22.
The Senate’s Republican president and its minority leader both oppose laws against texting while driving. Verizon, Sprint Nextel and AT&T are expected to support texting bans in Arizona.
Phoenix’s ban on texting while driving, enacted in 2007, has resulted in an average of 1.5 tickets per month, as of November 2009. Police claim enforcement of the texting ban is quite difficult.
Coconino County’s supervisors on Feb. 23 shot down a plan from the Board of Health that would have outlawed texting while driving. They backed state efforts to rein in texting while behind the wheel.
2010 cell phone, texting legislation (all dead):
SB 1334: Would outlaw texing by all drivers unless a hands-free device or voice-activated function is employed. Fine $50/$200 if an accident occurs. Approved on Feb. 15 by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Public Debt. Defeated in the full Senate (due to tie vote) on March 2, but then approved on March 22 in a 19-10 vote. Bill “held” in the House until the legislature adjourned April 30. (Melvin-Farley)
HB 2656: Would prohibit restricted license holders under the age of 18 from using cell phones or wireless communications devices such as PDAs while driving. Violators would have restriction period extended by six months regardless of drivers’ age. (Farley)
SB 1067: Seeks to prohibit drivers from viewing video images — includes TV, DVD. Would outlaw installation of these devices where screen can be seen by driver. Approved by the Senate on March 1 and transmitted to the House, where it was approved by the transportation committee. (Nelson)
SB 1443: Would ban text messaging for all drivers in Arizona. (Previous version that cleared committee would have prohibited use of handheld mobile phones.) Rejected by the full Senate on a 15-14 vote held June 22.
HB 2492: Would prohibit text messaging while driving on Arizona roads.
HB 2590: Would outlaw use of handheld phones by drivers under the age of 18. Hands-free operation OK.
HB 2191: Seeks to ban driving and talking on cell phones, unless a hands-free accessory is utilized.
2009 legislation notes:
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, narrowed the scope of his Arizona Senate Bill 1443 to cover only text messaging but it wasn’t enough. The original handheld cell phone ban was approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services on June 17, 2009, but the full Senate rejected even the texting version on June 22.
“It seems hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear of a horrendous accident in the United States involving not just one but multiple loss of life, mostly because of the driver texting,” Melvin said prior to the Senate’s rejection. “That’s the sole motivation here, is to save lives.”
In 2007, a bill seeking to ban all cell phone use while driving failed to advance through the GOP-controlled Legislature. The sponsor was Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson. Also in 2007, Phoenix banned texting while driving.
2008 cell phone/texting bills
HB 2397: Would have required all drivers to use hands-free devices with cell phones.
HB 2396: Would have banned drivers from texting via a cell phone or PDA.
HB 2398: Would have prohibited drivers with learner’s permits from using cell phones