We can honor the life of Officer Townsend and many others by making driving in Arizona safer. This bill is vital to preventing future tragedies on our roads.
You never know when one day will change the rest of your life. For my family, that day came on Jan. 8, when my son, Officer Clayton J. Townsend, was struck by a car during a routine traffic stop.
My son ended his watch on the Salt River Police Department when a man – texting and driving – hit him on Loop 101 in Scottsdale. He did not get to see his son take his first steps. He will not have the opportunity to grow old by his wife’s side.
Distracted driving caused this tragedy, but the Arizona Legislature is helping to prevent it from happening to more families.
Though my family is still grieving, we have made it our mission to get distracted drivers off Arizona roads. Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Kate Brophy McGee have been our allies in this fight, introducing legislation to require drivers to use hands-free devices while driving. House Bill 2318 won support in both chambers, and Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign it into law.
Arizona was one of only three states without a texting or handheld cellphone ban. In the absence of a statewide law, local jurisdictions took action on their own, and two counties and 27 cities have texting or hand-held cellphone bans. While we applaud these local governments for taking this initiative, their actions created another problem.
Arizona has a patchwork of different local laws, and drivers are at risk of unwittingly violating the law as they drive across towns. A statewide handheld cellphone ban – with primary enforcement – solves this problem. Cities and counties from Prescott to Yavapai County agree, and they have lobbied the state Legislature in support of a statewide hands-free law, too.
Family, friends and colleagues gather for the funeral of Salt River Officer Clayton Townsend on Jan. 15, 2019. Townsend was fatally struck by a distracted driver Jan. 8 during a traffic stop on Loop 101 near Scottsdale. Arizona Republic
Families like mine that have lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes are heartened that lawmakers approved HB 2318. Law enforcement organizations, including the Arizona Police Officers Association, the Arizona Association of Police Chiefs and the Fraternal Order of Police, also strongly supported the bill.
I know my son would be glad to know that his fellow officers took a stand on this legislation in his honor.
Arizona voters across regions and party lines are also in favor: One recent poll found that 86% of Arizonans support the proposed hands-free law. Rural communities support hands-free even more, with 97% saying they do not believe people should be able to text while driving.
The best way legislators could have honored the life of my son was to make sure he was the last one whose life is lost because of lax laws on cellphone use while driving.
Toni Townsend is the mother of fallen Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend. She and her husband Todd live in Phoenix.