Sedona an unlikely domino in Verde Valley texting, driving laws

Sedona’s law to regulate drivers distracted by texting went into effect Aug. 22 and mirrors a similar law recently passed by Coconino County.Photo illustration by Vyto Starinskas/VVN

Sedona’s law to regulate drivers distracted by texting went into effect Aug. 22 and mirrors a similar law recently passed by Coconino County.Photo illustration by Vyto Starinskas/VVN

VERDE VALLEY - Area communities are looking to the state rather than Sedona's recently enacted law to regulate drivers distracted by texting, according to local officials.

Sedona's law went into effect Aug. 22 and mirrors a similar law recently passed by Coconino County.

Cottonwood Manager Doug Bartosh, formerly a long-time police chief in Scottsdale and Cottonwood, said as much consistency from one jurisdiction to the next is helpful.

"Something like this, you would like it to be consistent across the area, so everybody knows," Barosh said.

He said Sedona has been pushing for this kind of law at the state level for some time, without much success.

"That is why you have individual cities, so local jurisdictions can decide what is best for them," he said. "I am sure that they see this as an important safety issue for their city, so they pursued it."

Jerome Chief of Police Allen Muma said while officials clearly saw such a regulation as useful for their city, the historic town defers to the state when it comes to highway safety.

"I support legislation such as that passed by Sedona, but will tell you that it is challenging to enforce," he said.

A state law might decrease incidents attributed to drivers' poor decisions, he said, but there will always be people who ignore the law anyway.

Jerome sees about a million drivers each year, Muma said, and they're in the town to for its art, views and history. These visitors and locals do occasionally get distracted behind the wheel, but Muma said he isn't aware of any incident that could have been prevented through regulation.

"The volume of traffic we experience here in Jerome is a result of people who come to Jerome to experience all it has to offer," Muma said.

Muma said his police officers' efforts to enforce traffic safety laws is apparent in the number of civil traffic cases that go through Jerome courts,

This volume is almost triple that of Clarkdale, "a town with a population 10 times greater than Jerome," he said.

Clarkdale Town Manager Gayle Mabery said while she is not familiar with Sedona's law, the town has not had an issue with distracted driving that would prompt them to enact something similar.

"While we are both small communities, the traffic patterns in Sedona and Clarkdale are quite different given Sedona's much greater tourist traffic," she said.

Accident rates are low in Clarkdale, she said, but the proliferation of cell phone usage does pose a threat in the future.

"What's probably most important is the public education tied to the dangers of distracted driving," she said. "It looks like Sedona has plans to fold that into their process going forward, which I applaud."

While uniform traffic laws across the Verde Valley are important, Mabery said this stretches to the national level.

"For instance, Arizona is currently one of the very few states in the nation without a ban on texting while driving," she said. "It's safe to say that most of the tourists who visit our area come from places where texting and driving is already illegal."

Follow the reporter on Twitter @ymgonzal and Instagram @VerdeValleyNews

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