By David Pittman
Arizona Joins 47 States Restricting Motorists’ Cellphone Use
Brendan Lyons, a Tucson safety advocate, has been called “a life saver” and “a force of nature” by state lawmakers for his efforts in leading a long and difficult campaign that proved instrumental in banning texting while driving in Arizona.
In signing HB 2318 into law on April 22, Gov. Doug Ducey praised Lyons for his role in getting the legislation to his desk. “There are many people deserving of credit for pushing this bill over the finish line, and one of them is Brendan Lyons,” said the Republican governor, thanking Lyons for his “tireless advocacy in order to save lives.”
Lawmakers noted there have been many other unsuccessful efforts at the Arizona Capitol over the past decade to prohibit texting while driving. Nonetheless, those failures did not detour Lyons, who continued fighting for change year after year.
“I apologize that it has taken us so long to pass this legislation,” said Rep. César Chávez, a Phoenix Democrat, from the House floor. “This bill has not come to light because of us, the legislators. It is because of a tireless champion who has been here for many, many years and who I consider to be a friend – Brendan Lyons, thank you. Thank you for calling us out, for harassing us in the hallway and making sure this day would eventually happen. This bill will make Arizona a safer place to live.”
Lyons, executive director of Look! Save a Life, has testified before House and Senate committees for six consecutive years in his crusade to establish an Arizona law to prohibit texting while driving. In those appearances he has been accompanied by supporters, many of whom were family members of those killed or injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers. Those supporters often held up photographs so lawmakers could see the faces of crash victims.
Lyons himself has experienced the evil of distracted driving, first having responded to these incidents as a former emergency medical technician and fireman, later as a trauma survivor.
“Sadly, as a former firefighter I’ve seen firsthand how devastating these crashes are, not only to those who have fallen victim, but to the families left behind to pick up the pieces,” Lyons told members of the Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 20. Lyons himself has experienced the evil of distracted driving, first having responded to these incidents as a former emergency medical technician and fireman, later as a trauma survivor.
“Unfortunately, I’ve also lived this painful reality. According to my crash report, on Oct. 4, 2013, a motorist traveling at 45 mph struck my girlfriend and I from behind as we were bicycling in a dedicated bike lane on the morning of her birthday. I sustained numerous spinal and pelvic fractures, was treated for a traumatic brain injury and forced to a lengthy hospital recovery and lost my career as a firefighter. I went through months of doctor’s appointments with seemingly endless physical, cognitive, occupational and vocational rehabilitation. I’m lucky to be standing before you as a survivor.”
Lyons told lawmakers that there was strong evidence that most people in Arizona support actions to regulate distracted driving. He said that while the Arizona Legislature had failed to address the issue, 26 jurisdictions in the state – including Oro Valley, Tucson and Pima County – had adopted local hands-free/anti-texting ordinances.
“To further underscore the significant growing trend, of those 26 ordinances, 15 of them have been adopted since the start of 2018,” Lyons said. “But this isn’t about numbers, this is about lives, such lives as Salt River Police officer Clayton Townsend, DPS officer Timothy Huffman, former Phoenix firefighter Thomas Hull, Daniel Wilson, Emanuel Patton, Linda Doyle and many, many others.”
Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, praised Lyons and his supporters. “I’ve sat on the Transportation Committee for many years, and I’ve seen the same families here holding up pictures of their loved ones,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, for continually coming here and reliving your nightmares in order to educate not only these two chambers, but all Arizonans. …Thank you Brendan; you’ve saved lives.”
With the enactment of HB 2318, Arizona joins 47 other states that prohibit texting while driving.
“The signing of a statewide ban on texting and driving enhances the safety of all Arizonans, replaces a patchwork of local ordinances and provides clarity to law enforcement and drivers alike to end this dangerous driving behavior,” Ducey said.
The law prohibits holding or supporting a wireless device while driving; writing or reading any text-based communication while driving, and watching, recording or broadcasting video while driving. Violations are a primary offense, allowing officers to pull over drivers for only texting and driving. Civil penalties provide up to a $150 fine for the first offense and up to a $250 fine for the second and subsequent offenses. A criminal penalty provides up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine for causing a crash resulting in serious injury or death. While the law takes effect immediately, the penalties will not begin until Jan. 1, 2021.
Lyons said the new law is far from perfect. He maintains penalties should be steeper, exemptions at stop lights should’ve been excluded and points on driver’s licenses should have been incorporated.
“But am I happy? Absolutely,” Lyons said. “This is where compromise comes in.”