PHOENIX (AP) — The death of a police officer struck by a driver who was allegedly texting his wife may be a catalyst for Arizona lawmakers to restrict phone use behind the wheel following a decade of failed attempts. It is one of only three states without a texting ban.

The Senate has passed three bills to punish distracted drivers, but they’re held up in the House, where majority Republicans disagree over how far to go in legislating behavior.

“People are losing their lives, much like recently officer Clayton Townsend,” said Brendon Lyons, a former firefighter who founded the group LOOK! Save a Life to advocate for texting bans.

[ORIGINAL STORY: DPS: Driver was texting when he hit, killed Salt River officer on Loop 101 in Scottsdale]

Townsend, a Salt River tribal police officer, was standing next to a vehicle he’d stopped on a Scottsdale freeway when he was hit by a vehicle on Jan. 8. Authorities say the driver of that vehicle was texting his wife.

The Senate has voted twice to outlaw any hand-held phone use by the driver of a moving vehicle, and also backed an alternative bill that bans any practice that distracts a driver in an unsafe manner.

[RELATED: Mom of police officer killed by distracted driver: 'There's no text that is so important']

House Speaker Rusty Bowers said he’s working to find a compromise among fellow Republicans and expects to allow a vote before the end of the Legislative session later this spring. Some prefer that officers be allowed to ticket cellphone users only if they make a stop for another reason. Others want to see different rules in urban and rural areas. And some say legislation is unnecessary because officers can already stop people acting dangerously.

[RELATED: Governor calls for bill that bans texting and driving]

“There are nuances,” Bowers said. “We’ll try to put this together. I want to get something.”

Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who sponsored the bills banning hand-held phone use, said she’s confident it will overcome the opposition of what she called a “vocal minority” in the House that wants it to be a “secondary offense” that can be ticketed only if a driver is stopped for another reason.

“I’m not backing down,” Brophy McGee said. “I’m just not. I’m not going to amend it.”

Lawmakers voted in 2017 to ban cellphone use by teenagers with a learner’s permit or during the first six months after they get a regular license. And school bus drivers are not allowed the text. But other efforts have repeatedly failed.

All states but Arizona, Montana and Missouri ban texting while driving and 16 prohibit holding a phone, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

More than two dozen Arizona cities and counties have their own restrictions on cellphone use while driving, according to Lyons. Nearly all ban any hand-held phone use, though the cities of Phoenix, Fountain Hills and Flagstaff only ban texting, he said.

[RELATED: Tempe approves new, stricter distracted driving laws]

A ban on all hand-held phone use is easier for police to enforce and protects privacy because an officer doesn’t need to know what someone was doing on their phone to write a ticket, Lyons said.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is supporting the legislation, noting Townsend’s death.

“The safety on our streets is incredibly important,” Ducey told reporters last week. “These devices are magical, they help us do many things, but they’ve also distracted many of our drivers.”

Brophy McGee’s bill would make it illegal for drivers to write or read anything on their phone or to hold it unless the vehicle is parked or stopped at a red light or railroad crossing. Calls to 911 would be allowed. Police could issue warnings until 2021, when they could begin writing tickets carrying fines of $75 to $149 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second.

A separate proposal by Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard doesn’t explicitly ban texting, but rather outlaws any behavior that isn’t related to driving if it causes an “immediate hazard” or prevents the driver from controlling their vehicles.

Some Republicans say Mesnard’s bill is preferable because it doesn’t single out cellphones.


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.



Recommended for you

(5) comments


A compromise?? Wtf!? What is wrong with these fools? 1) No texting while driving.
2) Texting while driving should be a primary offense. 3) If you are involved in a wreck while texting and driving it should be a criminal offense. It's that simple.


Just pass a no texting and no voice calls while driving. How simple can that be? I remember days before cellphones. If you got a call it went to your phone which was in the house. you would go home and listen to voicemail. but the term "distracted driving" is a joke. You can be picking your nose and they could call that distracted driving. Who is to define distracting?

Rhed Wagoner

Please stop searching for excuses through compromise..... Using any type of device that is not hands free during driving is patently dangerous. Our State legislators need to do their job and enact those regulations which would allow enforcement officers to take appropriate enforcement action whenever such a violation is observed. Seeking consensus or compromise is simply showing a complete lack of leadership and vision for overall public safety. Yes a primary violation including hefty fines for the first and every subsequent citation.


So why does it take a cop getting killed to take some action? Everyone in my family is just as important as any cop, however there have been people killed with no action taken. We need to replace EVERY ONE of the legislators for not acting before.


Driving on the streets and freeways in Arizona a driver does not need anything to distract them, and texting while driving is defenitly a distraction. There are a lot of fools out there that drive like idiots now, and they sure do not need to be looking down typing on a very small keyboard while driving. Put some teeth into the law, lst offense, a $500 fine. Second offense, a $1,000 fine plus loss of license for 6 months, and third offense, $5,000 fine plus loss of license permanently. You gotta make it tough if you really want it to work.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.