Arizona Department of Public Safety officers will crack down on distracted drivers, beginning in January.
The plan was announced after a public outcry over news that trucker Jorge Espinoza was allegedly using his phone to look at racy photos when he caused the crash that killed DPS Officer Tim Huffman on Interstate 8 in May.
However, the plan was in the works long before Huffman’s death, said Bart Graves, DPS public-relations manager.
“What occurred on I-8 was tragic and totally preventable,” he said. “It’s not just because we lost an officer. It’s because we’re losing people all across the state all the time.”
Distracted driving is a growing problem, Graves said. “We’re going from call to call and a lot of these are collisions where a distracted driver was a factor.”
Arizona doesn’t have a distracted-driving law or a texting ban, but starting next year officers will be encouraged to pull over distracted drivers and cite them using laws already on the books, he said, especially the “speed not reasonable and prudent” law.
“Any speed is not reasonable when you’re texting, because you’re not fully in control of your driving,” Graves said.
An education campaign will come with the extra enforcement and will include media messages, brochures, videos and social media.
“We want the driving public to know one true fact,” Graves said. “When you’re on the highway, going 55-65 mph, your full attention should be on your driving and on nothing else.”
In the crash that killed Huffman, trucker Espinoza was driving an empty fuel tanker 65 mph on cruise control.
He initially told investigators he didn’t see the DPS captain who was directing traffic around a closed lane because he was looking in his mirror at a passing truck. He also said he never uses his phone while driving because it is against company policy, police reports show.
But information taken from the phone shows Espinoza was using the Internet at the time of the crash, according to investigative reports obtained by the Star.
He was on Facebook looking at “photographs of several women in provocative positions, wearing little clothing,” “photographs of a woman in a low-cut dress,” and photos of a man “smoking something,” according to the reports.
Espinoza had also used his phone to look at Facebook, YouTube, female escort Web pages, porn sites and social networks on other occasions when he was logged in as driving, investigators said.
A camera on the dashboard of his truck shows his Samsung Galaxy 3 phone fly out of his hand in the crash, although he had apparently tried to cover the camera with his wallet, police say.
Espinoza, of Yuma, is charged with second-degree murder, endangerment and criminal damage.