According to researchers, 80 percent of college students admit to texting while driving. The researchers also observed that texting while driving decreased reaction time to a greater extent than drunk driving. Research like this has driven 47 states to pass legislation banning drivers from texting while driving. Arizona, however, remains one of three holdouts. It is time for that to change.
Texting while driving has now surpassed drunk driving as the leading cause of death among teen drivers. Approximately 11 teens die every day in texting related accidents. Texting while driving can make a driver up to 23 times more likely to cause an accident.
State Senator Steven Farley told the Arizona Republic that he believed those numbers merit a separate law. In 2011, Arizona was one of three states to see an increase in traffic related fatalities, when the rest of the country was experiencing historic lows. In 2012, for the first time since 2005, the number of traffic fatalities was up nationwide, but Arizona remained one of the fastest growing states with a 9 percent increase in traffic fatalities. The National Safety Council believes that an increase in the amount of distracted driving is a primary cause in the growing numbers.
The loss of life is surely the most tragic impact from texting while driving, but traffic accidents also cost Arizona $2.9 billion in 2011. Farley points to lower auto insurance premiums as another potential benefit of a statewide ban, and a strong enough law would also qualify Arizona to receive extra federal funding for highway-safety programs and repairs.
Farley, who has proposed a statewide ban every year since 2007, blames Senate President Andy Biggs for the lack of progress. “He’s been the chair of the transportation committee and has been able to kill it by not hearing it in his committee,” Farley said. “Now that he’s senate president he’s been able to kill it by not bringing it to the floor or assigning it to committees as happened this year.”
While both Phoenix and Tucson, the state’s largest cities, have passed bans on texting, they are extremely limited in scope. Simply crossing River Road into the Foothills means that a driver is no longer restricted by the texting ban, and there is no such law protecting drivers on the freeways when you have left either Phoenix or Tucson city limits. Also, the punishments for drivers who violate the ban aren’t harsh enough.
The $100 fine in Tucson only increases to $250 if the violator is involved in an accident. A repeat offender will face the same fines.
Many states, such as New York, have a system that suspends the licenses of adolescent drivers caught texting for anywhere from 60 days to six months. A similar suspension should be enforced upon repeat offenders regardless of age, and in the event that a distracted driver causes an accident, there should be a suspension even if it is a first offense.
Texting while driving is stupid and dangerous. The growing body of evidence should have been enough for our state legislators to have taken decisive action already. But since we haven’t yet, lets take advantage of this opportunity to truly get tough on texting while driving.