By Philip Haldiman
Peoria has been working on a draft to ban texting while driving, but this year it appears the state legislature may finally pass a state-wide law addressing this issue.
So, the city has delayed their proposed ordinance to see what the state does.
Intergovernmental Affairs Director Thomas Adkins said five separate bills have been proposed at the legislature regarding texting or distracted driving this session. Although none of them have been heard yet, this is the first year it seems likely something will make it through the legislative process and be signed by the governor, he said.
“We are keeping a close eye on the legislature. Obviously we have a vested interest, and we can’t guarantee what happens, but it may be best to wait and see,” Mr. Adkins said. “If something passes, it could pass in April or May, but it could be June.”
In conjunction with the city’s proposed ordinance, Peoria’s communications department has been working on a campaign to educate residents on a possible ban of texting while driving. This will be put on hold as well.
Marketing and Communications Manager Tim Eiden said a campaign would include educating citizens about the specifics of the ordinance, but also, and maybe more importantly, require complete buy-in from all people — a top to bottom approach.
“If we are going to create an initiative to ban texting, we need to lead by example. We need to demonstrate that we too will not be using cell phones,” Mr. Eiden said.
Mr. Adkins added that it would not be wise to launch a campaign educating residents if the city has to later conform to a state-wide law.
Citizens would need to be re-educated after they had already been educated, he said.
“There is a strong possibility that if we adopt a city ordinance, it may be preempted in some fashion by the new state law if one is enacted. If we enact an ordinance that conflicts with state law, we will need to thoughtfully consider any complication that could arise from that conflict,” Mr. Adkins said. “Generally it is in our interest to have our ordinance in sync with state legislation. If it is not in sync, it could result in council needing to come back and make changes to an ordinance we already adopted.”
State legislators have tried 11 times to pass a statewide ban on texting, according to a report from Peoria’s city attorney. Arizona and two other states have not adopted legislation banning texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
But Mr. Adkins said it is more likely than not that something will pass this year.
A wide swath of the state’s counties and municipalities have adopted their own form of distracted driving bans — Surprise, Glendale, Phoenix, El Mirage, Tucson, Sedona, Fountain Hills, Bisbee, Oro Valley, as well as Yavapai, Coconino and Pima counties.
Additionally, a police officer was fatally struck by a texting driver on the Loop 101 Jan. 8, reviving interest at the state level that it may be time for a statewide distracted driving law.
“It seems to make sense to wait and see what happens at the state legislature. If they are going to enact something, we would need to re-educate our city, and that does not make sense at all,” Mayor Cathy Carlat said. “We will stay tuned.”