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Death of Salt River officer sparks discussion over distracted driving law

(Pexels photo)

PHOENIX — The death of a Salt River Police Department officer at the hands of a driver who admitted he was texting behind the wheel sparked a renewed discussion over whether Arizona needs a statewide distracted driving law.

Arizona is one of three states that does not have a statewide law banning texting while driving, despite some politicians’ repeated efforts to get one passed into law.

Gov. Doug Ducey told reporters this week that he would sign a law that makes it to his desk, but lawmakers have argued that bills that aim to prevent texting at the wheel are extremely difficult to enforce.

“In addition, it suggests that texting is the only way someone can be distracted,” Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday. 

Mesnard said he intends to introduce legislation that would address the larger issue of distracted driving by the end of the month.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said he hopes lawmakers who attempt to bring similar legislation to Ducey’s desk come to law enforcement officials first.

“If there’s going to be legislation…I hope that when it’s written that law enforcement professionals are the ones taking the lead on what is practical and what is not, and what is realistic and what is not,” Penzone told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Thursday.

“If we write laws for the sake of taking action and we put it on the books but they’re either not enforceable or the practicality of how you enforce them is not realistic, it’s all for naught. You waste time and money.”

Salt River Officer Clayton Townsend was killed Tuesday night after 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead allegedly struck him while driving on the Loop 101. Sanstead told officers that he was texting and driving when the crash occurred.

The next day, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputy was struck by a vehicle in Queen Creek. Penzone said the unnamed deputy is in serious but stable condition. Impairment and distraction were not being considered as factors in the crash.

Arizona reported 741 car crashes that may have been caused by distracted driving in 2017, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Glendale, Fountain Hills, Phoenix, Tempe, Surprise and El Mirage all have some form of law against drivers using cellphones or other handheld devices.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar and Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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