Arizona Distracted Driving

Your Guide to Arizona's Distracted Driving Laws

(We’re talking about more than just not texting.)

Arizona distracted driving laws

Sorry to start on such a negative note, but there are over 125,000 car accidents every year in Arizona. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Simply put, distracted driving is any activity that takes a driver’s focus away from the primary task of driving. This includes anything from sending a text message to arguing with another passenger. Arizona’s laws currently focus on cell phone use.

Most activities that can be classified as distracted driving are perfectly legal. However, if a new proposal currently under consideration is approved, police may soon be able to start giving distracted driving tickets to motorists who are driving erratically due to being focused on another task, such as eating or grooming.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Arizona

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Arizona:

  • Approximately 12,000 accidents are caused by distracted driving in Arizona every year.
  • The three most common distractions that have caused accidents in AZ are: 
    • paying attention to activities outside the vehicle
    • reaching for objects
    • cell phone use
  • In January 2021, Arizona will become the 49th state to ban texting while driving.

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Arizona

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Arizona

Distracted driving is the third-most common cause of car accidents in the state of Arizona.  In fact, crashes caused by distracted driving are more than twice as common as crashes caused by driving while intoxicated. No wonder so many people are calling DWD ("driving while distracted") the new DWI.

Does Arizona Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

On April 22, 2019, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a new bill that will ban the holding of wireless communication devices while driving. Following a warning period, this law will go into effect on January 1, 2021. Until then, the use of handheld devices is still legal, but you are likely to receive a warning if spotted by law enforcement.

Currently in the state of Arizona:

  • Text messaging by teens and adult drivers who have had their license for 6 months or less is prohibited.
  • School bus drivers are not permitted to use cell phones while driving.

Effective January 1, 2021, the law will add:

  • The use of handheld cell phones and related activities, including texting, is prohibited for all drivers.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Arizona?

Yes.

But it's taken a few trailblazing cities in Arizona to create their own laws ahead of the state. This was done in response to the state’s failure to enact stronger distracted driving laws in a timely fashion. Currently, texting while driving is prohibited in the following areas:

  • Phoenix
  • Flagstaff

And handheld wireless devices are not permitted while driving in:

  • Tucson
  • Pima County
  • Glendale
  • San Luis
  • Parker
  • Cottonwood
  • Payson
  • Oro Valley

Also, once the new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021, the following exceptions will apply:

  • Drivers may make phone calls if they use earpieces, headphones, or any type of device worn on the wrist to conduct voice communications.
  • Vehicles with built-in interfaces with cellphones are exempt as long they can be operated with minimal interactions.
  • Drivers can accept and send texts using voice-only technology.
  • A driver can use their cell phone’s map or GPS feature so long as they are doing so using hands-free mode.
  • Use of handheld electronic devices will be permitted while the car is not in motion, such as at a red light or when pulled over.

Arizona Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance

Until January 1, 2021:


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?                X                               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                X               
Is handheld device use permitted?                X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                X               

Starting January 1, 2021:


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
               X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                X               
Is handheld device use permitted?                              X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                
Is Headphones/Headset Use Permitted?                X               

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Arizona?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

So, what happens if a police officer in Arizona spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that specifically states that you cannot eat while driving in this state.

But actions like eating and talking on a handheld phone significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, and these actions can get you pulled over.  So it's better to avoid as many distractions as possible.

Unless you are really in a hurry, you’d probably be better off eating your cheeseburger indoors or while parked in the parking lot.

What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Arizona uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you are obeying all traffic laws and believe that you are in full control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer witnesses you sending a text message while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Arizona?

While state law currently allows texting and driving by adult drivers, some Arizona cities, as we've already said, have passed their own laws prohibiting it, with fines typically between $100 and $250.
Effective January 1, 2021, texting and handheld cell phone use while driving will be illegal in this state. On that date, the fine will be:

  • $75 to $149 for the first offense
  • $150 to $250 for any following offenses

These offenses do not add points to your driver’s license.  However, enhanced penalties and demerit points will be assigned if the driver causes serious bodily injury or death while violating these laws.

Arizona compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Currently, every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But once 2021 rolls around and Arizona's law comes into effect, Montana will be the only state left.

Does Distracted Driving in Arizona Increase Insurance Rates?

A citation for distracted driving in Arizona does not add points to your driving record, so it is possible that your insurance company will never be made aware of the infraction. However, if you cause an accident or commit a moving violation while distracted, you can expect to see your rates go up.

What If I Drive into Nevada or California?

You may be wondering about how the law affects you if you drive across the border into another state where the laws may be different.

While (for the time being anyway) you are still permitted to use a handheld device in Arizona, you may not be in a number of neighboring states like Nevada and California. And although the new law that takes effect in 2021 will allow you to read and send text messages while at a red light, doing so in Nevada or California can earn you a citation.

Any time you drive into another state, you are required to comply with that state’s laws and you are subject to their penalties  if you do not. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a ticket, so be sure to review the laws of other states before taking a car trip.

What Is Arizona Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Arizona lawmakers are making big changes to state laws in order to reduce the risk of distracted driving accidents in this state. The new hands-free law that goes into effect in January 2021 will go a long way toward this goal.

Yet another bill that is currently being considered would allow police to write citations for anyone they witness engaging in any kind of distracting behavior while behind the wheel if they're not maintaining reasonable control of their vehicle.  This can range from texting to eating a cheeseburger to putting on lipstick in the mirror.

Before taking your next road trip, be sure to stay on top of state laws so you do not get cited for doing something you didn’t know was illegal.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush games for our time at home.

Sources © 2020, Consumer Agent Portal, LLC. All rights reserved.

https://www.azdot.gov/motor-vehicles/Statistics/arizona-motor-vehicle-crash-facts

https://apps.azleg.gov/BillStatus/BillOverview/71430?SessionId=121

© 2020, Consumer Agent Portal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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