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County bans texting & driving, staying on median

Posted at 6:02 PM, May 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-17 21:02:10-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Are you headed out on Pima County roads? County Supervisors passed two new local laws Monday in the name of safety on the roads.

Supervisors passed a new ordinance that bans stopping and standing on roadway medians.  It's in response to complaints about homeless people who stay on medians to sell newspapers or ask for money.  Sheriff Chris Nanos says it's unsafe when people do more than quickly walk through a median to cross the road.

Supervisors also passed a county-wide ban on texting and driving.  It's legal to take voice calls, and write or read on your phone stopped at a red light but texting or e-mailing when you're moving risks a fine of one hundred to 250 dollars.

In a way, both new laws are about roadway distractions.  either on your phone, or standing in the median in danger of falling in front of a car.

To some residents in Pima County people who stay in the median are an in your face example of a homeless problem that spreads into their neighborhoods and onto their land.

Roy Adelman says when homeless people set up camp on his land Pima County was slow to evict them, then threatened him with fines for the mess left behind.

His neighbor Terry Rathbun says the mess affects him too.

"They're leaving solid waste.  Human excrement.  It's a biohazard where they're living.  And this is our backyards."

Sheriff Chris Nanos says no one should think running homeless people off medians means he's trying to clear them from the area.  He says that would be illegal and wrong.  

He says his one goal is safety so they don't step or stumble into traffic.

Brian Doyle told supervisors selling papers in the median helped him escape being homeless.

"And I'm doing fine.  It took me a long time to get where I am now.  I rented a place and everything.  I'm doing great.  You take this from me, what do I have?  Nothing."

Sheriff Nanos repeated that keeping people from staying in medians is for safety, not a backdoor way to run off the homeless But Supervisor Richard Elias said he thinks that's exactly what it is.

Elias was the only no vote as the ordinance passed four to one.

Better break yourself of texting and driving.  Pima County Supervisors just passed a texting and driving ban that applies anywhere in the county.

Texting and driving is the classic bad habit.  People tell you it's wrong, and do it anyway.

To help break that habit, speakers like Jason Palmieri stepped up.  He says he was on his motorcycle, riding responsibly, when a distracted driver turned in front of him.

He says, "It destroyed me.  It hurt my family.  It hurt the immediate community I was involved in.  We know that a large part of these accidents involving people, drivers being distracted are from electronic devices."

Sheriff Chris Nanos asked for a law much like the one the City of Tucson passed four years ago.  Voice calls are okay but reading and writing on your phone is not---unless you are stopped at a red light.

He says there's an important difference.  TPD tickets for texting if you're already stopped for something else. For deputies, the sight of you texting is enough for a stop.

Critics complain because the law forbids handling a hand held device for anything other than voice calls the law's too vague and could get you a ticket for making your phone do something other than text.

Ken Rineer held out his electronic device and said it’s a phone, "Which is also a GPS, also an MP3 player which is also a plethora of items nowadays with modern day cell phones."

All the supervisors voted to accept the new law but re-visit in a few months in case the language needs a tune up.

If deputies catch you texting it's a hundred dollar fine, or a 250 dollar fine if there's an accident.

Staying too long on a median is a civil traffic violation but the ordinance does not spell out the fines.