Tempe city ordinance makes distracted driving a primary offense

The city of Tempe updated its original distracted driving ordinance which was passed in 2015

Earlier this month, Tempe City Council passed an ordinance to make distracted driving a more serious offense.

The new law supplants an ordinance originally passed in 2015 that classified distracted driving — the act of using a handheld mobile device behind the wheel — as a secondary offense. This meant that drivers could only be punished for distracted driving after being pulled over for other primary offenses, such as running a stop sign, driving over the speed limit or not signaling before changing lanes.

Now that distracted driving itself is classified as a primary offense, police can pull drivers over if they observe them using their cellphone while driving, even if they are following all other traffic laws.

The law, intended to crack down on distracted driving and improve road safety, includes fines of $100 to $500 for first-time, second-time and repeat offenders. Changing the law from a secondary offense to a primary offense helps drivers to be proactive rather than reactive, according to Liliana Duran, a spokesperson for the Tempe Police Department.

However, there are exceptions to the city law. Mobile devices can be used while the vehicle is parked, stopped at a railroad crossing or stopped at a red light. Hands-free modes in certain cars can also be used.

Lauren Kuby, the vice mayor of Tempe, said that the inspiration for creating a new distracted driving ordinance stemmed from the recent Vision Zero goal, which was adopted last year.

"Vision Zero means we will accept no more car, pedestrians or bike fatalities in our city,” Kuby said. “We want to move toward zero fatalities."

See more: Tempe City Council passes anti-texting and driving ordinance

She also said a motivating factor for the city council was the fact that the state legislature has finally started to gain interest in the issue.

"It continually failed year after year, but it was getting headway this year because there was a prominent death," Kuby said. "A Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community officer was killed by a distracted driver."

Distracted driving accidents happen all over the country. According to the United States Department of Transportation, 3,450 people died in 2016 due to distracted driving. In 2015, about 391,000 people were injured due to distracted driving crashes.

A day before ASU classes started last fall semester, incoming freshman Kayla Gonzalez was hit by a distracted driver while walking down University Drive. 

Gonzalez, who is now a freshman at ASU studying sports business, was injured so badly that she could not start the fall semester with the rest of her peers. Instead, she had to wait until the spring to start classes.

Some of Kayla's injuries included a fractured femur, fibula, pelvis and cracked ribs. She even had to get her big toe amputated.

Gonzales said that the accident put her behind her peers by a whole semester, both academically and socially. 

"First semester is when you’re supposed to get involved and meet everybody and assimilate yourself," Gonzalez said. "Since I missed all of that, I didn’t really have time to find new clubs and organizations I wanted to join or make new friends. It pretty much derailed everything."

Duran said the police department is going through many avenues to educate the public on the new law.

"We’re doing things proactively on social media … We’ve sent this information of distracted driving over to the schools in Tempe and our school resource officers are also providing that information there at the school," Duran said.

Gonzalez said even with the new law, she is still “on the fence about walking to places.” However, she is hopeful for the law's effects.

"I still don’t feel as safe," Gonzalez said. "But maybe in the future when more people know about the law, and it’s more enforced, maybe I’ll have a different opinion."


Reach the reporter at mzhao49@asu.edu and follow @michelle_zhao23 on Twitter. 

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