A week after a Salt River police officer was struck and killed by a texting driver on the Loop 101, the Scottsdale City Council took steps to consider regulating cellphone use by motorists in the city.
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Police Officer Clayton Townsend was buried last week. He died Jan. 8 after being struck by a vehicle while conducting a routine traffic stop.
On Jan. 15, council took up the issue of regulating cellphone use by drivers at the request of Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp.
The council voted 6-1 to direct the City Manager’s office to prepare a presentation for a future meeting at which members will discuss and potentially take action.
Klapp said her decision was partially prompted by Townsend’s death. She also pointed out that 17 cities and counties in the state have taken on the issue.
“I think it’s a growing problem,” she said. “We are surrounded by cities that already have laws in place, including the (Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community). It is imperative that we do something that covers handheld devices or texting while driving.”
Phoenix, Tempe and 15 other governmental entities have passed their own laws regulating distracted driving.
Klapp added, “It is long overdue.”
Councilwoman Linda Milhaven cast the one dissenting vote.
“While I am supportive of having a Scottsdale conversation, I think a statewide solution is preferable,” Milhaven said.
Mayor Jim Lane previously told the Progress that he did not want to see a regulatory environment in which every city or town had its own rules governing texting while driving.
Lane said the City Council had looked into the issue four or five years ago but found at the time that similar texting while driving bans were ineffective because they are difficult to enforce.
Still, Lane voted in support of Klapp’s motion because it simply allowed the council to advance the conversation. He indicated that he was still in favor of a statewide solution.
Klapp said she too favors a statewide solution to the issue but that there is no guarantee that the State Legislature will.
“My preference would be that the state takes care of this and that we don’t have to set an (ordinance) in Scottsdale,” Klapp said. “That would give us uniformity across all the cities, but we have no guarantee that will happen.”
Klapp said the council met with legislators last week to learn more about potential bills that could be introduced.
Rep. John Kavanagh, whose district includes parts of Scottsdale, has reintroduced a bill he sponsored in 2017 that failed to gain traction at the legislature.
That bill, now titled HB 2069, would make it illegal for drivers to operate a vehicle on a highway while writing or sending a text message. It included exceptions for law enforcement and emergency vehicle operators and also allowed drivers to use their mobile devices for navigation purposes.
Phoenix Sen. Kate Brophy-McGee also said she intends to sponsor legislation making it illegal for Arizona drivers to text while driving.
Gov. Doug Ducey indicated he is prepared to sign a bill if it makes it through the legislature.
History has shown that just getting a ban to the Governor’s desk could be a tall task, though.
Kavanagh’s 2017 bill never even got a hearing and other distracted driving bills sponsored by former Tucson Sen. Steve Farley also failed to gain traction at the legislature.
Klapp said that she supports having a citywide discussion about what a potential ban should include, because it could help inform the formulation of any statewide bills that gain traction at the legislature.
“What we are doing is not a bad thing because we can provide input as to what the citizens of the City of Scottsdale are thinking,” she said.