/ Modified jun 12, 2016 4:26 p.m.

On Pima County Streets: Is One Traffic Death Too Many?

Why do traffic crashes and the casualties from them remain a persistent problem?

Alexandria Lara was pregnant when she and boyfriend Martin Verdugo and Sheyla Velarde were killed in a crash at East 6th Street and North Country Club Road in Tucson last July.

They were among the 91 people who lost their lives in traffic crashes in Pima County last year, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation's Crash Facts Report.

Alcohol was involved in 40 of those deaths. Nineteen were pedestrians, and five were cyclists.

Brendan Lyons was riding his bike to Sabino Canyon one October morning in 2013 when he was struck and nearly killed by a distracted driver.

"All too often we feel it's not going to happen to me. But the truth is, it doesn't happen to you until it happens to you," said Lyons.

Lyons, who worked as a firefighter before his crash, runs the local chapter of a bike safety organization Look! Save a Life. He said crashes, like the one that nearly killed him, are entirely avoidable.

"I often reflect upon how lucky I am and fortunate to be here. But it's not fair when you talk to these families who have lost loved ones.

He said he wants the Legislature to ban texting while driving. Many local governments have made the practice illegal, including the city of Tucson and Pima County, but Arizona is one of two states in U.S. that lack such a ban. State Senator Steve Farley has been trying for years to change that.

"I was actually the first legislator in the country to propose a ban on texting while driving," he said. "The problem has been boiled down to one person: Senator Andy Biggs, who's now senate president."

"It's not a partisan thing. Eighty-three percent to 92 percent of Arizonans, depending on which poll you read, agree that we need to have a law banning driving while texting," he said. "You can't find 90 percent of Arizonans agreeing on anything, whether it's mom, apple pie, baseball, but they agree that this is a dangerous practice that should be banned."

Laws, of course, are only one part of the puzzle.

"We need to treat this like it's a public health epidemic," said Emily Yetman, executive director of the Living Streets Alliance.

She said it's time for Tucsonans to say that one traffic fatality is too many. Yetman and her organization are working to change attitudes towards mobility and encouraging the city to invest in sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks - infrastructure that keeps pedestrians and cyclists safe.

"We're all people, we all need to get around, and we deserve to be able to do that safely," said Yetman.

Guests:

  • Brendan Lyons, executive director, Look! Save a Life
  • Steve Farley, state senator, assistant minority leader
  • Emily Yetman, executive director, Living Streets Alliance

On the journalists roundtable:

  • Murphy Woodhouse, reporter, Arizona Daily Star
  • Michel Marizco, senior editor, KJZZ Fronteras Desk in Tucson
  • Nancy Montoya, Arizona Public Media
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