In a 4 - 2 vote Tuesday afternoon the Tucson City Council decided to move forward with changes to the city's hands-free ordinance.
Using a phone or tablet while driving without hands-free equipment was originally a secondary offense, meaning you could only get cited if you were pulled over for another traffic violation. City council members voted to reclassify it as a primary offense so officers will be able to pull people you over just for breaking the hands-free rule.
The original hands-free ordinance went into effect in Tucson on May 1, 2017. Part of the plan was to review the rule six months in. City leaders also decided Tuesday to lower the fines associated with citations. The first citation was $100, but will be dropped down to $50. The second citation will be $100.
The changes will not go into effect until the ordinance is written up and the council votes again.
Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus briefed the council about the progress Tuesday afternoon. He said there are some difficulties with enforcing it as a secondary offense, but the department was using it as an opportunity to educate.
"I think this is a really positive step forward," said Chief Magnus after the meeting. "It puts us in a very consistent position with the rest of Pima County and it also gives us one more tool to work with to lower the number of accidents, which are really a pretty serious problem for us here."
Pima County and Oro Valley both have distracted driving ordinances that recognize using a phone as a primary offense.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department says since it went into effect deputies have issued 153 citations and 486 warnings. Those statistics include numbers from June 1, 2017 through January 5, 2018.
Council member Steve Kozachik voted against the ordinance when it was proposed as a secondary offense because he said it was "worthless." He proposed the changes Tuesday night and said at the meeting that the goal was public safety.
The two council members who voted against making it a primary offense were Regina Romero and Richard Fimbres. Romero made it clear that she does not support texting while driving and knows distracted driving kills people every year. However, she was concerned about the possibility of racial profiling and the disparate impact the rule might have on minorities. She also said she's not convinced laws will actually change attitudes.
Magnus said at the meeting that the department has not had any complaints related to racial profiling. He said he checked in with ACLU of Arizona and it didn't have anything on record either.
Officers within TPD are cognizant of the fact that we live in a diverse community, Magnus said, and we want to treat everybody fairly. Magnus said it will be a priority to make sure there's no racial profiling tolerated within the department.
Meanwhile Fimbres said he also knows distracted driving is an issue but there are other things they should be concerned about, including seatbelt laws and distracted cyclists or skateboarders.
Council member Paul Cunningham supported the change and made the point that nowadays it's more than just texting. People are using their phones for Facebook, Snapchat and more, he said.
At the study session Tuesday there were a number of people associated with the LOOK! Save a Life campaign. Karen Brown was there holding a picture of her son Daniel who was killed by a distracted driver in 2015.
"I was guilty of it before my son died," Brown said. "Now friends and family -- they never do it because they have been educated the hard way."
Karen was happy about the changes and talks about her son every chance she gets because she doesn't want another family to go through the pain of losing a loved one. There is a ghost bike that sits in the spot where Daniel died near Orange Grove and La Cholla.
"We're just trying to get our lives back together. But it's been very, very difficult and it's just something that never ever goes away," Brown said.
TPD will keep record of the citations under the proposed changes and will report them back to the city council after the first nine months.