Four months after a Valley police officer was struck and killed by a man who admitted to texting behind the wheel, Arizona joined the majority of the nation in enacting a ban against texting and driving on Monday.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2318 into law during a ceremony attended by advocates, law enforcement, lawmakers and the family of Salt River Officer Clayton Townsend.
“Let’s send a message that that text message can wait. It’s not worth your life,” Ducey said.
With the proposal, it is now illegal to drive while holding a mobile device. Exempt devices are those that can be used in a hands-free mode or are integrated with the vehicle’s control interface.
The law will take effect in January 2021 and will supersede existing statues in cities such as Phoenix, Tempe and Surprise. Officers will issue warnings until the law goes into effect.
As per the bill, fines range from $75 to $149 for first offenses and $150 to $250 for subsequent violations.
Townsend was killed in January after 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead allegedly struck him while driving on Loop 101 near McDowell Road. Townsend was conducting a traffic stop when Sanstead crossed two lanes of the highway. Townsend sustained head trauma from the crash and later died at a hospital.
The accident sparked a renewed effort by Arizona lawmakers to get legislation banning texting and driving to the governor’s desk.
In January, Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee first introduced a texting and driving ban, but the legislation that eventually passed both chambers was a less severe version introduced in the House by GOP Rep. Noel Campbell.
Toni Morales Broberg, the president of AT&T Arizona, praised the governor’s move in a statement. “This legislation will help ensure safer roads and remind all drivers that it can wait.”
With Monday’s move, Montana is now the only state with no restriction on texting and driving, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Multiple metro Phoenix cities, including Phoenix, Surprise and Tempe, already had some form of law against drivers using cellphones or other handheld devices.
Last year, a law went into effect banning teenage drivers in Arizona from using cellphones.