Tucson city council to strengthen hands-free ordinance

Tucson city council to strengthen hands-free ordinance
(Source: Town of Oro Valley)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Tucson city council on Tuesday, Jan. 9, made a move to strengthen its hands-free ordinance.

The council asked staff to return with an ordinance to make driving while operating a cell phone without a hands-free device a primary offense.

Until the ordinance is brought back to and voted on by the council, nothing will change. There is no timetable for either to happen.

The council also said it wants to lower the fines for a violation of the ordinance.

The city's current hands-free ordinance is a secondary offense, which means police officers cannot use it as a reason to pull you over. But if they catch you committing another driving offense -- like speeding or running a red light -- you can be ticketed for driving while using your phone.

The first offense is $50, second is $100 and a third is $150.

When the city council passed its hands-free ordinance on March 21, 2017, it included a six-month study period before deciding whether to make it a primary offense.

In December, Tucson News Now's Bud Foster spoke with Ward VI city council member Steve Kozachik about the ordinance.

"Police will tell you it's virtually worthless as a secondary offense," Kozachik said.

Sixty people died on Tucson streets in 2017 in bicycle crashes, motorcycle wrecks, car accidents and pedestrian fatalities.

The most conspicuous of those numbers is the 25 people who died as a result of a car/pedestrian accident. That's a record for Tucson and one which deserves attention.

"When you see the amount of accidents that have occurred that have resulted in death or serious injury, and the way that's escalating as a result of people using their cell phones, and if people look hard at those numbers, there won't leave a lot of question in their mind as to why we need those laws, " said Rothschild.

"60 deaths," Kozachik said. "To me that's carnage."

Kozachik said a tougher ban on hand held devices is only one of several tactics Tucson needs to take to help alleviate the problem.

Better street lighting is one, delayed left turns is another.

Both Oro Valley and Pima County already have the tighter restrictions and Tucson is playing catch up.

"In one way, yes. I think it's important to have uniform laws throughout the different jurisdictions," said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild on following what Pima County and Oro Valley had already done. "But it was also for us to have the conversation of is this something we should do? Is this a priority?"

The hands-free ordinance will go in front of the council at the Jan. 23 meeting, according to Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

City council could decide to make it effective immediately or start it at a later date.

"What we cost ourselves every year in lives lost, in lives damaged, in consequences that can never be taken back, is a result of this kind of negligence - which has just become a recent negligence - is one that I think we're leading on and I think it's one that the people want," said Rothschild on the reason for change.

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