Almost every state has responded to rising smartphone use with a law banning drivers from texting, many in the past few years.
Arizona is one of nine states that have yet to make that leap, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report released in July.
Those who oppose a ban argue that drivers should be able to make their own decisions, or that Arizona’s statutes regarding reckless driving and reasonable and prudent speed apply to distracted drivers. They say making a separate law banning texting or cellphone use is unnecessary.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who has introduced bills in the Arizona Legislature the past several years that would institute a texting-while-driving ban, cited studies showing that drivers are 2,300 percent more likely to get into an accident while texting. Those numbers merit a separate law, he said.
“(Texting while driving) is so far out there as a danger than anything else — eating a burger, putting on makeup, anything else — it deserves to be called out as a specific practice that needs to be banned,” he said.
The report looked at bans on the following activities: use of handheld devices; cellphone use by novice drivers or school bus drivers; and text messaging by novice drivers, school-bus drivers or all drivers. Of those, Arizona bans only cellphone use by school-bus drivers.
A total of 41 states have texting bans for all drivers, up from 28 states in 2010, the GHSA report says.
Vinnie Sorce, 47, a software tester in Chino Valley, wanted Arizona to join that list. His fiancee, Stacey Stubbs, was killed in a crash in 2007. It was later determined that the teenager who struck her car — 18-year-old Ashley Miller, who also died — was texting while she was driving.
For some time, Sorce was an advocate for a texting-while-driving ban, but after several years with no progress, he said he’s grown weary of the fight.
“I can’t stand to see people arguing over it,” he said. “I got tired of trying to convey it to people; nobody seemed to be listening.”
The Arizona Department of Transportation’s annual crash report includes some distracted-driving data. The 2012 report lists distracted or inattentive driving as a factor in 11,139 out of 195,762 crashes. Use of an electronic-communications device was a factor in 197 crashes. Of 3,260 crashes involving motorcycles, 138 listed distraction or inattention as a factor, and one listed the use of an electronic-communications device.
Arizona’s data is less specific than that suggested by the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria Guideline, which is widely accepted nationwide, said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA deputy executive director.
The guideline suggests law-enforcement officials specifically note whether drivers involved in a crash were manually using a phone — texting, e-mailing, or similar actions — talking on a hands-free phone or talking on a handheld phone, among other behavior, the GHSA says.
“It’s more than having one little check box,” Adkins said. “You have to do training, have to look for a whole host of factors.”
By comparison, ADOT’s data note that the number of crashes involving inattentive or distracted driving or the use of an “electronic communications device.”
Other states collect more specific data, including Nevada. When indicating whether drivers were inattentive or distracted during a crash, law-enforcement officials are also prompted to note whether the drivers were talking on a cellphone or texting. Nevada has laws banning text messaging and the use of handheld communication devices.
The state began collecting the more specific data this year, and it was an easy switch to make, said Kim Edwards, senior analyst for the Nevada Department of Transportation.
Farley said he still hopes to see a texting ban in Arizona, but he doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon. In the meantime, he is pushing for more specific data collection and better enforcement of Arizona’s reckless driving statute.
“I’m not content to wait, because lives are at stake,” he said.
A strong texting-while-driving ban could qualify Arizona for part of a $22.5 million fund for highway-safety programs and repairs, Adkins said.
Another potential benefit is lower automobile-insurance premiums, Farley said.
Brad Hilliard, a public-affairs specialist for State Farm Insurance, said many factors play into determining insurance premiums but added that lower premiums are a possibility, especially if there were data available showing the effect of a texting ban.
“If the data is there, and you see the trend, and the trends are that Arizona is a safer state ... you can review that and consider rate changes because of it,” he said. “Safety is always going to be our No. 1 concern, and that’s why State Farm would support any bills reducing distractions while driving.”
Distracted driving is a horrible epidemic that is a nationwide problem. Arizona needs to put their focus on this and create a law where it would be illegal to use your cellphone while driving. The safety of others on the road is the biggest concern for anyone. Stop texting and driving!