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Arizona finally bans texting while driving

Gov. Doug Ducey PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Gov. Doug Ducey
PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The Republican architect of the texting ban signed into law Monday by Gov. Doug Ducey said it would not have happened if a former Democrat senator had not paved the way.

“This is a bipartisan bill,” said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. “This is not Republican, this is not Democrat. This is public safety, this is public health.”

This is the 13th time that similar legislation has been introduced. All the prior versions, many of them shepherded by former legislator Steve Farley, D-Tucson, faltered.

Not this year, and Brophy McGee said it has nothing to do with the bill having a Republican sponsor.

“I give Steve every credit for having banged the drum for these years and finally got it into most of our thick skulls,” she told Capitol Media Services. In fact, Brophy McGee said Farley, who did not seek re-election to the Senate last year and made an ill-fated bid for governor, was instrumental in lobbying to get this one over the finish line.

Farley, who was at Monday’s signing ceremony at the Capitol, said it isn’t about who gets credit.

“This is about making sure the victims’ families voices get heard and we can save lives on a roadway,” he said.

What pushed this one over the top was the death in January of officer Clayton Townsend just lawmakers were convening for the session. The officer from the Salt River Police Department, who was out of his vehicle talking to a motorist, was struck and killed by another driver who admitted to texting while behind the wheel.

“I would give the credit to Toni Townsend,” Ducey said of Clayton’s mother.

“I think everyone just saw this as such an avoidable death,” the governor said. “And when somebody comes down (to the Legislature) and speaks with the power and passion of a mom on behalf of her fallen son, how could they not deliver this to the governor’s desk?”

Toni Townsend said she and the family actually celebrated approval of the bill the day before, on Easter Sunday, with the family going to the cemetery and sharing pictures.

“So, it’s been a joyous couple of days,” she said, even if it came “out of some horrible tragedy.”

“No good can ever come from that. But we can have a positive and we can at least have a legacy for Clayton.”

She acknowledged that, strictly speaking, the statewide ban does not take effect for about 20 months. But Townsend said that, at least in the interim, “it’s all about changing behavior” by educating motorists to the specific problems of using a cell phone while driving.

Among those who was unaware of – or ignored – the hazards was the governor himself.

Ducey, who is now driven almost all the time by his security detail, confessed to his own practices before he took office in 2015.

“I’m sorry to say that I did,” he said, though it never resulted in an accident. Still, the governor said, that’s not the point.

“Now, I know it’s not about being good about working your phone and driving. It’s that you shouldn’t be on your phone while driving,” Ducey said. “So my behavior will change as well.”

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