In terms of geography, Arizona is the sixth largest state in the US and has the fifteenth largest population. By one of these quirks, three-quarters of the state’s population live in Maricopa County and Pima County. That breaks down to 3.8 million people in Maricopa County, i.e. sixty percent of the total state’s population of 6.5 million. This is fairly remarkable for a state with such a large land mass (there are forty-five people per square mile with 88% living in urban settings). This anomaly is explained by the heat and aridity in semi-desert conditions in the southern half of the state, and fairly extensive forests in the north. Even with air-conditioning in homes and vehicles, most prefer living in cities rather than out in the countryside.
There is a total of 113,635 square miles of land with the federal government owning almost 45%. To navigate this vast space, there are just over 55,000 miles of public roads with 1,160 miles of interstate highways. As additional help, there are 1,330 miles of railroad track. From this you will understand there are vast areas without public road access. To reflect this, there are 2.2 million automobiles and 1.6 million light trucks registered. That’s 1.7 vehicles per person including children and the elderly. Only 2% of the public use public transport to commute, 2% walk to work and almost 4% work at home. Perhaps not surprisingly given its history as a frontier state, the most popular vehicle by registration is the Ford F-150 full-size pickup. This is consistently the most popular truck in the US and, when you look at the the sales of all vehicles across America, it has sold more than any other make and model for the last twenty-nine straight years. While it’s true these trucks are no longer used for work, they make a cultural lifestyle statement about the people who live in this landscape.
The roads and immigration
By virtue of its position on the border with Mexico, the road system and people driving on it have become famous around the world. In part, this is because of Arizona’s history. Although it has just celebrated one-hundred years as one of the US states, it was part of Mexico, only becoming a part of America after the Mexican-American War. The fact it was so recently a part of Mexico means there are cultural forces at work. For better or worse, immigration by the citizens of Mexico into America has become a red hot political issue in the border states. Despite the fact almost 21% of the population speaks Spanish, 73% of the population is white and proud of it. Indeed, for the last sixty years. the state has consistently voted Republican. As evidence of its hold over the state, 2011 saw the passage of Senate Bill 1070 which has been described as the toughest anti-immigration law in America, requiring all “aliens” to carry registration documents with them at all times. These documents must be produced if the police make a lawful stop, detention or arrest. The alleged effect of this latter provision is to allow the Arizona law enforcement community to racially profile drivers and stop all those suspect of being “aliens”. This provision has been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court despite the freedom this gives the local police to harass those driving on the public roads who may appear to be “alien”.
Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety
At the highest level within the state, GOHS develops public policy on all aspects of safety on public roads, coordinating all the current programs and overseeing the planing for the next infrastructure projects. One of the major policies is taking action to control speeding and limit aggressive driving. For the record, the top three causes of fatalities on Arizona’s roads are driving while impaired, failure to use seat belt, and speed. In 2011, speeding was the critical factor in 35% of all traffic deaths. Even though the number of deaths has reduced by 12% in the five years 2007 through 2011, the percentage increased by 12% in 2011. Seeing the reversal of the year-on-year trend, GOHS allocated $1.1 additional funding for more positive law enforcement of speeding and aggressive driving laws. For the record, Arizona is one of only eleven states to define aggressive driving. For most purposes this involves refusing to give way, unsafe lane behavior, following too closely, failing to obey a traffic control device, and so on.
America is graying. In 1990, it’s estimated the elderly drove about 6% of the state’s total mileage. By 2030, it’s estimated the elderly will be driving about 19% of total miles driven. That means the current fatality rate among the elderly is likely to increase significantly. The state is therefore considering the introduction of driver re-eduction courses and support to those whose driving would be improved if their vehicles were modified.
Young drivers are three times more likely than older drivers to be involved in a crash. The key reason is the willingness of teen drivers to speed. Because of their inexperience, this leads to reckless behavior. At night they are more likely to drink and drive, resulting in higher crash rates.
Do You Know that…
1. 88% of the population live in towns and cities leaving most of the land empty.
2. Because of the anti-immigration law, there are a large number of stops to check the citizen status of drivers and their passengers.
3. Arizona is one of the few states to criminalize aggressive driving.
4. Car insurance is relatively cheap, Arizona being the 40th most expensive state.
5. If you do not buy a car insurance policy, you have to post a bond worth $40,000 with the Arizona DMV.
6. Car insurance companies cannot raise the premium rates if their driver makes a claim but is not at fault.
7. Under the graduated license program, teens can apply for an instruction permit at 15 years, six months.
8. Going through the Safe Teen Accident Reduction Training run by Tucson PD produces a healthy discount on auto insurance rates.
9. The free Lawyers on Call program does not cover personal injury claims. Use the Bar Association’s free telephone line to find a specialist attorney.
10. All drivers convicted of a DUI/DWI offense have to fit an ignition interlock device.