In 2010, 762 Arizonans lost their lives in traffic fatalities, but apparently the State Legislature feels that’s not nearly enough. I say this because of two bills which the House recently voted on: House bills 2757 and 2125. The first bill—which legalizes the use of electronic billboards—passed in the House and will be voted on in the Senate soon. The other bill—which would have banned texting while driving—was narrowly defeated on Tuesday.
Apparently, the Republican-dominated legislature seems to think distracted drivers are vital to Arizona’s future, and if I drove a tow-truck I’d agree. Since I don’t, I’m more than a little concerned.
You see, HB 2757 will officially make legal the use of digital billboards along federal and state highways. You’ve likely seen these colorful, flashing displays while driving to work or running over the motorcyclist you didn’t see because he was in the blind-spot that exists between the aforementioned billboard and the road you weren’t looking at.
Admittedly, these billboards have been around for years, distracting drivers with important consumer messages like “Look, this woman’s damn-near naked” and “In a wreck? Need a check? Call Lerner & Rowe.” If HB 2757 is approved by the Senate, however, it will open the door for hundreds if not thousands more of these TV-like signs along our roadways. Which I suppose is a good thing, as those signs will give you something to watch while waiting for the five-car pile up in front of you to be cleared.
Joining this bill is HB 2125, which—had it passed—would have banned texting while driving. Fortunately, this bill failed, which means we can all continue driving while at the same time updating our friends on the fact that “OMG! I just drove over a speed bump, and I swear it screamed. #NegligentManslaughter.”
Now, when you take the State Legislature’s response to these bills alone, it’s puzzling. But when you combine them with some of our state’s other recent bills—both passed and proposed—those puzzle pieces fit together into a dark and haunting picture. From efforts to allow guns in government buildings and on college campuses, to denying health care to thousands of Arizonans; from ending mandates that force school districts to provide lunches for needy children, to legalizing distracted driving; and from phasing out long-term health care for the terminally ill, to ending federally funded emergency unemployment—the message is clear.
The Arizona GOP is trying to kill us.
Not that it’s personal, mind you. It’s just good old supply-side economics. You know: since they’re incapable of increasing the supply of jobs, the next logical thing to do is reduce the demand for them. Sure, it’s a hard-liner’s approach to population control, but I suppose it’s better than the god-hating, anti-American use of birth control. Right?
Either way, if the GOP gets its way, some of us are going to have to die. And whether your death comes from an armed college student jacked up on meth and a Nietzsche pocket reader, or from a teenage girl “OMGing” her VW into your right of way, take comfort in the fact that you will have died for the greater good.
I, on the other hand, am prepared to survive the current legislature because I lived most of my life on the outskirts of Arizona’s Sun City—a Del Webb retirement community built exclusively for senior citizens and cheap buffets*. Due to this, I’m well adapted to sharing the road with drivers who don’t give a crap about what they might happen to drive into, over or through.
That’s not to say old people are necessarily bad drivers, though. In fact, most of them are wonderful drivers who simply have a tendency to overlook the fact that they’re actually driving.
Case in point: About a year ago I made the mistake of letting my 91-year-old grandmother drive us to lunch. I admit this was a bad idea, but she was insistent. Plus, she offered me a Werther’s Original if I let her. So I did. And to be honest, her driving was perfectly fine until she forgot that she was in her car. Somewhere between her apartment and Red Robin, she apparently convinced herself she was in her living room watching TV, and she kept pointing to the road in front of her saying, “I never liked this show.” She then tried to change the channel by turning the TV’s knob—known in most parts of the world as the steering wheel.
And while no one was hurt that day, I can think of at least one pair of underwear that will never be the same again.
In any case, living within a few miles of the gray-haired-and-dentured demolition derby that is Sun City, I’ve picked up some amazing defensive driving skills, such as: staying the fuck home.
And that’s a skill that will come in handy now that HB 2125 has been rejected, handier still if HB 2757 is passed. HB 2757’s passage in the Senate is a no-brainer. Not because the bill makes sense, but rather because the bill was heavily lobbied for by Clear Channel Outdoor, a subsidiary of media giant Clear Channel, as well as one of the world’s biggest suppliers of outdoor advertising. Coincidentally enough, CCO is based out of Phoenix, AZ, a fact that pretty much converts their lobbying dollar into $2 from anyone else.
Long story short: get used to those rapidly changing HD billboards telling you about all the hot slots at the local casino, and say goodbye to those amazing Arizona sunsets you used to be able to see.
More troubling than the Vegas-style billboards, though, is the legislature’s failure to ban texting—an act that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, and your mind away from the responsibility of driving a two-thousand pound weapon. It’s more troubling because, at first, the legislature did the right thing with HB 2125. Last week, the House passed the ban with a 45-15 margin. Literally, within a week’s time, a bill that passed with 75% of the vote was repealed by the same elected officials who so overwhelmingly approved of it.
Why, you ask? To answer to that question, we have to turn to Rep. Jack Harper, a Republican from—ironically—Surprise. Last week, Rep. Harper voted to ban texting while driving, but this week he demanded that the House take up the bill again because he didn’t know what the bill was about when he voted for it originally.
Let that sit in for a moment.
As appalling as it is that Rep. Harper A., voted “yea” on a bill he knew nothing about, and that B., he’s dumb enough to admit this fact publicly, you have to admit it does explain all the crazy shit Arizona has passed into law the past few years.
Still, in Rep. Harper’s defense, the simple fact that he’s an elected official demonstrates that, just like him, Arizona citizens didn’t bother to read up before voting either. I.e., you get the government you deserve.
Rep. Harper is not alone is his reversed vote, as 17 other legislators switched from “yes” to “no” on the bill in the last week. Perhaps none of those legislators knew what the bill was about, or perhaps someone—I don’t know, a provider of cellular services maybe—intervened? The end result was a quick renunciation of a ban that the overwhelming majority of the House approved of last week.
Now, if you’re an Arizona citizen upset with something your legislature passed into law, all you have to do to override it is wait 18 months, collect hundreds of thousands of signatures, make a million calls, knock on thousands of doors, and make an argument you hope can win come election day.
But if you’re Verizon Wireless, all you have to do is write a check.
Can you hear me now?
Well, maybe the more appropriate question is: “Can I kill them now?”
For the record, the GOP’s response, this week at least: “Yes.”
*If you ever happen to make it down to Sun City, a little friendly advice: don’t go anywhere near a buffet before 5 p.m. If you do, you’re more than welcome to complain about the 10 cent tip my grandmother leaves the wait staff. As for the car she parks on your face?
That’s totally on you.