Few tickets issued here despite new texting law

Backers say rule still needed given danger on road

By CECELIA MARSHALL For the Arizona Daily Star

Always wear a seatbelt. Don’t drink and drive.

And, as obvious as it sounds, don’t text while driving.

The city law banning sending and receiving texts while driving that went into effect in April has so far resulted in just two citations.

Proponents say the lack of cases does not diminish the importance of keeping drivers’ eyes on the road.

Last year, 58 percent of high school seniors admitted they had texted while driving, a government survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed. Forty-nine percent of drivers under 35 with a cellphone will send or receive a text message while driving, according to the same study.

“Who doesn’t?” John LaRocca said, when asked if he texts and drives. LaRocca was attending a recent defensive-driving class for a red-light ticket.

“I know I shouldn’t, but every call I get is important,” said LaRocca, a Realtor who depends on his cellphone for business.

LaRocca has been trying to stop texting and driving, and seeing a crash in April involving a driver on the phone made him more aware of the danger.

“Driving is difficult enough,” said LaRocca. “Even only looking down for a split second, you can be in a wreck somewhere.”

Texting while driving is one of the primary distractions for drivers at all age levels, says Paul Hallums, owner of Tucson’s EZ AZ Traffic School and a former Tucson police captain.

Every student in his traffic school classes says they’ve had close calls while texting and driving, like almost running off the road or hitting the car in front of them.

Citing a driver for texting while driving is difficult, said Sgt. Mary Kay Slider of the Tucson Police Department. Drivers stopped for texting can say they were dialing a number or getting directions, she said.

While police don’t receive additional training to enforce the anti-texting law, there are obvious things they look for, like swerving, running stop signs or speeding, said Sgt. Maria Hawke, a department spokeswoman.

State Rep. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat who authored the bill banning texting behind the wheel, said having the ban only in Tucson and Phoenix has created a mild patchwork of coverage throughout the state, which makes consistent enforcement difficult.

About 40 states have adopted some sort of statewide prohibition on cellphone use while driving. Arizona is not one of them. Last month, an 18-year-old Massachusetts man was found guilty of homicide after killing a driver in a head- on collision while texting.

People who send text messages are 23 times more likely to be in a crash than nondistracted drivers, according to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study released in 2009 that tracked the behavior of truck drivers using cameras mounted inside vehicles. An average text message takes about 4.6 seconds to type. If you are driving an average of 55 mph, your car will travel the length of a football field before you finish your message, leaving little room for error and more of a chance for an accident, according to the study.

“I think it’s dangerous, but I still do it,” said a UA student, David Charles. He isn’t concerned about being caught because it’s too hard for the police to monitor something they can’t see, he said.

There are even more dangerous types of distracted driving that this “arbitrary” law doesn’t address, said Charles, and until all of those distractions are covered, there won’t be a lot of change.

“Do we have to have a law to make us do the right thing?” asked Judy White, an instructor at EZ AZ Traffic School.



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