PHOENIX – Responding to arguments that outlawing texting while driving would create a “nanny state” and burden law enforcement, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee said Thursday that government has a duty to protect citizens.
“This is a place where government should be regulating and should be concerned,” said Rep. Vic Williams, R–Tucson. “The numbers don’t lie. Statistically we have problems with people driving distracted.”
The committee voted 6–2 to endorse HB 2512, authored by Rep. Steve Urie, R–Gilbert, which carries a fine of $50 for those caught texting while driving and $200 if a texting driver is involved in an accident.
Thirty–five states have laws against texting while driving. Phoenix approved a ban in 2007, and the Tucson City Council is considering a similar measure.
Urie told the committee that a law would prevent a patchwork of ordinances around the state.
“The state needs to get out in front of that and set the precedent,” he said.
The bill, which applies to handheld wireless communication devices, includes exceptions for emergency vehicle drivers and law enforcement officers using “necessary equipment,” drivers reading or selecting telephone numbers and those whose vehicles aren’t moving.
Stuart Goodman, a lobbyist for AAA Arizona, said text messaging increases the risk of being in a crash or near–crash by 23.2 times, citing a 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
“Texting while driving is such an egregious distraction compared to the others that exist,” Goodman said.
Rep. Jerry Weiers, R–Glendale, who voted against the bill, said it would be difficult for law enforcement officers to determine who is texting versus someone simply looking at the phone or a GPS application.
“I think a lot of policemen would tell you that it’s unenforceable,” he said.
Rep. Karen Fann, R–Prescott, who also opposed the measure, said there are other distractions as bad or worse than texting.
“Rather than just do texting, I would like to see us have a good law that addresses all distracted driving,” she said.
Rep. Steve Farley, D–Tucson, who has authored similar bills in previous sessions, said the tragic results of accidents caused by texting outweigh potential gray areas.
“The types of things you do when you’re texting are horrific, whether you’re running into the sides of moving trains, which has happened, or crossing over a center line and hitting a mom head-on, leaving her kids without a mom, which happened in this state in July 2007,” Farley said.