By Lou Waters
Oro Valley Vice Mayor
A 20-year-old woman talking on her cell phone ran a red light in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She never saw the light. It’s called ‘inattention blindness.’ You’re able to look at but cannot see objects around you. The phone call, ironically, concerned the young woman’s charity work with young people. Next she knew, she’d taken the life of a 12-year-old boy riding in the back seat of the car she’d struck in the intersection. She pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.
A child died and a young woman’s life dramatically changed over a phone call while driving. And each story about inattention blindness is more horrible than the last.
Our addictions to cell phones and other electronic gadgets are very real and a sign of the times. But their use while driving is killing us.
Oro Valley has passed a ‘hands free’ law which took effect January 6th. It simply states, while driving in Oro Valley it is illegal to have a cell phone or any portable electronic device designed to engage in calls, texting, imaging or data in your hand. Police officers now are able to stop you for that offense and when they do, they’ll tell you why Oro Valley has taken steps to ensure a higher level of driver safety for its residents. They will tell you why it’s dangerous. They won’t be at your window to give you a citation or ‘raise revenue’ as some have argued is the reason for implementing the law.
This is a tough campaign for law enforcement, politicians, corporate leaders, and communities.
Everybody knows that when you take your mind off driving, while driving, bad things can happen. It’s happened to you. You catch yourself in mid-swerve, perhaps not knowing that 5-seconds looking at a text at 45-miles-an-hour will carry you the length of a football field. You, an athlete training in a bike lane, or neighbor, could be killed. Was the text worth it? Absolutely not.
But how is the problem solved?
Arizona has no distracted driving law. State lawmakers have been trying for years. They will try again this year.
I spoke briefly with Governor Ducey in mid-January about the Oro Valley law . He was already aware of it. I asked what he tells his three sons about driving and cell phones. He said: “Put down the phone.”
Yes, that’s the goal. And here’s the rub. It’s not the technology. It’s our behavior.
Newly elected Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, while admitting distracted driving is a huge public safety concern, has not made this issue a primary one on his agenda. His department’s $6-million dollar deficit is his focus.
Saving lives, does save money. It costs millions to investigate distracted driving deaths.
The Tucson City Council took up the issue of ‘hands free’ driving and declined. Tucson is sticking with its ‘no texting law’ which is essentially unenforceable and few tickets are issued.
Hands Free driving is no panacea, admittedly. You can still talk on your phone but you need connective technology that takes it out of your hands. Driving itself already is a multi-task endeavor, and the added inattention significantly reduces your brain’s cognitive function.
So Oro Valley will continue to keep its people safe and convince Tucson, Marana, Sahuarita and the State to effectively keep us all safe with an enforceable law.
On January 25th there was a Distracted Driving Awareness Rally at the State Capitol. The all day event was loud enough for our State lawmakers to hear our concerns. But as it was recently, aptly stated: “regardless of what the Legislature decides, technology and habits can change faster than the speed of politics.”
Until then, as Governor Ducey suggests, let’s put our phones down and just drive.