By Mark Carlisle
Glendale has joined several other cities and towns across Arizona in banning the use of a cell phone while driving.
Glendale City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday night that outlaws texting or using a phone in any non-hands-free way, including putting the phone to one’s ear, while operating a motor vehicle.
The law is designed to make Glendale’s roads safer, city officials contend.
“If you’re operating a vehicle on a Glendale roadway, your eyes should be on the roadway and on the other people that you’re sharing that roadway with and to have any distraction in that vehicle is just a danger to anyone around you, including yourself,” said Glendale Police Chief Rick St. John said at the Jan. 8 public hearing.
The law will go into effect Thursday, Feb. 7. Mr. St. John has said there will be an education period of about six months before officers begin enforcement of the ban.
Glendale’s ordinance emulates Surprise’s, passed in August. It makes using any handheld electronic device while driving a primary offense — meaning police can pull a driver over for that offense alone — and would enforce a fine of up to $250, matching Surprise for the toughest penalty in the state.
The new law does allow for hands-free use of a phone while driving, such as Bluetooth, voice-to-text or placing a phone on a mounted holder for use of GPS or music.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day nine people die and more than 1,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes in the U.S. due to distracted driving. Texting while driving is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study conducted in 2012.
Mr. St. John said that his department believes the true numbers may be even higher than statistics say, because officers don’t always know what’s happening inside a vehicle that causes an accident, and drivers who have caused a crash because of distracted driving might not admit it to police.
While the state legislature has considered a distracted driving ban multiple times, it has only passed minimal restrictions. State law prohibits school bus drivers, drivers under the age of 18 and “novice” drivers, who have been licensed for fewer than six months, from using a handheld electronic device while driving.
In voicing his support for the new Glendale law, Barrel District Councilman Bart Turner criticized the legislature’s lack of action on the matter.
“It was important enough apparently to prohibit school bus drivers from texting while driving and they’ve left it up to us cities to protect those very same kids on the bus from other people on the road who might be texting while driving,” Mr. Turner said.
A personal story
A Tucson resident traveled to Glendale for Tuesday night’s meeting to put a face to the statistics.
Brendan Lyons, a former firefighter and executive director of the Arizona nonprofit called Look! Save a Life, which advocates against distracted driving throughout the state, brought with him a destroyed bicycle frame while addressing Council.
He said that in 2013, he and his girlfriend were struck by a car going 45 miles per hour while they road their bikes in the bike lane because the driver was texting and distracted.
Mr. Lyons said his fellow firefighters who responded to the call did not recognize him at first because of his injuries. While his girlfriend’s wrist was shattered, Mr. Lyons woke up in the hospital with numerous spinal and pelvic fractures and a traumatic brain injury. He had to learn to walk again and has to give up his dream job as a firefighter.
“With my shattered bicycle frame here staged as a centerpiece of safety and awareness, I hope that my story resonates with each and every one of you on how a moment’s distraction can be a lifetime of regret,” Mr. Lyons said.
Several Council members thanked Mr. Lyons for sharing his story, which he said he has shared with several other municipalities considering a distracted driving ban.
“I think he’s powerful testimony to the action we’re about to pass and the fact that it may prevent other accidents such as that which occurred to Mr. Lyons,” said Yucca District Councilwoman Joyce Clark.
A growing chorus of support
Thirty-eight states and Washington D.C. have districted driving bans.
Surprise, Phoenix, El Mirage, Tucson, Sedona, Fountain Hills, Bisbee, Oro Valley, and Yavapai, Coconino and Pima counties all have some form of a distracted driving ban. Peoria is another Valley city with an ordinance in the works that could be voted into law soon.
Glendale has considered texting-while-driving bans several times before it was voted into law Tuesday, first in 2008. Part of the reason for the delay was past council’s suggested the ban would be best as a statewide law so drivers aren’t confused crossing between local jurisdictions with different laws. The council signed a resolution of support for the state legislature to pass a ban, but it never did.
Glendale’s ordinance is an exact match to the ordinance Surprise passed last year, and many other Valley municipalities are using Surprise’s ordinance as a model for their own. Mr. St. John said the uniformity of these local ordinances will lessen the ambiguity of different laws from one jurisdiction to the next.
“When you’re driving anywhere in metro Phoenix, you know that the use of a handheld device, without meeting one of the proper exemptions, (is illegal).”
To lessen confusion further, Mr. Turner suggested Glendale work with other cities and towns with distracted driving ordinances to put up uniform signage reminding drivers of the law.
The proposed ban applies to more than just phones. The law prohibits use of any “wireless communication device that is designed to engage in calls; and/or receive and transmit text, images, and/or data.” This would include devices such as tablets and smart watches if used in a non-hands-free way.