Ban on mobile phone use while driving starts Jan. 1

KINGMAN - Mayor Richard Anderson and four of five members of the City Council attending Tuesday's meeting made it clear the ban they're imposing on using handheld mobile devices while driving was not designed as a revenue generator.

It's supposed to be a life-saver.

Councilman Larry Carver, a former Arizona Highway Patrol trooper, brought the issue back to the Council after a deadlocked vote in early November failed to pass the measure.

Tuesday, he said he spoke to an attorney who knows a "soccer mom" who struck a motorcyclist when she responded to a text message in Kingman.

"The motorcyclist was seriously injured, but will survive," said Carver. Not only was the motorcyclist the victim of a distracted driver, the driver will have to pay out of pocket to cover what her insurance will not.

"We can talk about what we do while driving, but this thing (handheld devices) is hot and heavy," he said. "If we can save one person, I'll take the wrath of 10,000 people."

Councilman Mark Abram, who voted against the ban in November, agreed with Carver.

"You're three times more likely to die when not wearing a seatbelt or if a child is not in a car seat," he said. "It's unfortunate the state and county won't step up. I've seen too many people hurt."

Anderson said he's had to use evasive action while encountering a motorist using their phone. "We've probably all swerved when they've swerved into our lane," he said. "This is not a revenue generating attempt. It's to save lives."

Opposition

There was opposition from residents.

A man who identified himself only as Ray said the "repeated attempts" to pass this legislation are misplaced. He added that the issue should go before voters.

"My opposition to this law is it gives police new avenues to initiate contact with drivers," he said. The man said it was a civil liberty issue as it limits people's right to be free to go about their business.

The man also said Kingman Police and the Mohave County Sheriff's office have a good reputation in the region.

"I don't want California laws, where I escaped from," he said.

"I'm on the same page as the last guy," said Harley Pettit. "You can't legislate responsibility. We have drunk driving laws and people still drive drunk."

Pettit said there are no statistics to support the ban. This is true, but only because such statistics have only been tracked in recent years, leaving statisticians with too little information to make solid conclusions.

Pettit said he wasn't against a texting ban, but he thinks enacting one is misplaced until the state and county enact similar legislation. Several Arizona cities, however, have enacted bans. The one Kingman will have loosely mirrors one the city of Tempe recently put on the books.

Theresa Evans took the opposite tack when she said she read the Constitution and found nothing that gives drivers the right to endanger other motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians. She said there's nothing in the Constitution because driving isn't a right, but a privilege.

Changing bad habits

Anderson asked Police Chief Bob DeVries if the law would be enforceable and in turn help drivers change their driving habits.

"The ordinance as written gets us started on that journey," said DeVries, who echoed Anderson's revenue comment. "We're not out there to generate revenue. We're out there to change bad driving habits."

He said he was driving with his granddaughter recently when a person on their cell phone forced him to take evasive action.

Councilwoman Jen Miles lobbied for a six-month warning period in order to educate the public.

"We can put into play anything you want in terms of education," said DeVries. "We're willing to do that."

Miles also noted the fines are among the highest in the state. "I don't know why we'd want to be more punitive," she said.

DeVries said the police department wanted no role in the penalty phase.

Miles' peers were happy to put a 90-day grace period in play, but balked at lowering the fines - which range from $100 for a first offense to a $500 fine for a third offense within three years, plus an $80 court assessment fee (see sidebar).

"If officers encounter someone three times, that's someone that won't change. That's a dangerous driver and we need to get them off the road," said DeVries.

Yocum votes 'no'

Councilman Stuart Yocum said he was "very much an opponent" of texting and driving, but there are too many other distractions for drivers. "I don't think it's appropriate to target the simple act of holding a cell phone to your ear," he said.

While it's true drivers encounter countless distractions, a comprehensive Survey of the States compiled by the Governor's Highway Safety Administration found that distracted driving by itself is not a new threat to highway safety, but new technology both inside and outside of vehicles have forced policymakers to focus on this new issue.

Here's a look at some of the statistics, starting with just how many people carry a mobile device.

• As of three years ago, there were 326.4 million wireless subscriptions in the U.S. That's more than there are people in the country.

• As of 2010, 43 states and Washington, D.C. reported the emphasis on distracted driving had increased. Only seven states - Arizona is one of them - said the concern has remained the same.

• 41 states have banned texting and 11 states and Washington, D.C., require drives to use hands-free devices.

• 47 states have taken steps to educate the public about the threat of distracted driving.

• 33 states ban cell phone use for teenage drivers and the dangers of using a cell phone or other mobile devices is now standard in driver education curriculum.

• Nearly nine of 10 drivers believe talking on cell phones while driving is a "somewhat" or "very dangerous" threat to their safety and more than 19 out of 20 believe texting, emailing, checking or updating social media while behind the wheel poses even more of a threat.

• On the other side of the coin, drivers might be worried about other drivers, but that doesn't stop them from engaging in the same behavior. One in three of those surveyed said they text or read email while driving. One in four said they send texts or emails while driving, and seven in 10 said they talk on the phone while driving

Virtually every state and city has people who lobby lawmakers to enact bans on mobile devices. In Kingman, Dick Penwarden got the ball rolling. A conservative veteran who said he generally doesn't like new laws, Penwarden said he was compelled to get involved after learning about a Kingman woman who was grievously injured after a person talking on his cell phone crashed into her on Stockton Hill Road.

Lawmakers in Arizona have only banned school bus drivers from texting while carrying their young passengers and the common refrain when asked why there isn't more concern, legislators claim a distracted driving law already on the books is sufficient. That law refers only to reckless driving.