LSA’s Prepared Statement on the review of the Hands-Free Mobile Device Ordinance

January 08, 2018 – City of Tucson elected officials are exploring the possibility of modifying the current Hands-Free Mobile Devise Ordinance to make it a primary offense. Read below for our views and observations on the issue:

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Living Streets Alliance (LSA) fundamentally recognizes and advocates that all people deserve to be safe as they travel to work, to school, anywhere. LSA also recognizes that we all have a moral responsibility to do all that we can to keep people safe and to encourage people to behave safely as they go about their lives.

LSA absolutely agrees that it should be against the law to use cellphones or engage in any other behavior that distracts from the very serious activity of operating a vehicle.

But we also recognize and wish to acknowledge that this conversation extends far beyond the adoption of a stricter ordinance. Here are some points for your consideration, which echo points raised in conversations with many stakeholders:

  • All communities are not starting from the same place when it comes to safety on our streets, sidewalks and bikeways. The reality is that some communities are at higher risk of experiencing traffic injuries than others, in large part because of historic disinvestment and a systemic cycle of poverty that leaves people with little choice in how they get around.
  • The current reality is that many people in Tucson are living in fear: fear of family separation, deportation, and detention. Increased enforcement adds to that fear.
  • The number of people living in and on the edge of poverty is high in Tucson. Stiff penalties and traffic fines communicate the seriousness of the offense and often disrupt the ability of low-income people to get to work, to pay bills, and to feed their family.
  • While the decision to look at that handheld mobile device when driving is a personal choice and that it is our personal responsibility to behave in ways that are lawful while we drive, walk, or bike, the design of our streets and the speeds at which we travel on them in Tucson are having unacceptable and increasingly fatal consequences, especially on people on foot, our elderly, our children, and people of color.

Enforcement does have a role to play in traffic safety efforts. Given the numerous concerns we’ve heard articulated by people across our community, this role needs to be carefully evaluated to ensure it has positive and equitable impacts. One way this can be achieved includes developing data-driven, culturally competent, and multilingual education and enforcement campaigns that are appropriate for specific communities. And it includes working with trusted community-based organizations to provide culturally sensitive, context specific engagement for education and enforcement campaigns.

But it is also important to remember that we cannot enforce nor educate our way out of poor roadway design or policies that send inappropriate messages to road users. The greatest focus of our efforts should be in designing (or redesigning) public space and setting policies, particularly related to managing speed, that encourage safety among all road users.

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