Arizona highway patrol scanning for distracted drivers

2014-04-12T00:00:00Z Arizona highway patrol scanning for distracted driversBy Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Arizona highway patrol officers are keeping additional eyes out for distracted drivers through early next week as part of a national awareness campaign about the dangers posed by those motorists.

The campaign is focused on changing driving behavior through education and enforcement of traffic laws, said Maj. Larry Scarber of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

“Talking on the phone, eating, looking at passengers, texting or putting on makeup in a vehicle is not against the law. Inattention is not against the law so we won’t stop a driver until we see a moving violation,” Scarber said.

That moving violation can include tailgating, speeding or not staying in the proper lane while traveling, said Scarber.

The intensive patrol effort began Thursday and will continue through Tuesday.

In addition to the regular staff of patrol officers during daylight hours, additional officers are using unmarked cars hoping to pull over distracted drivers before they cause a collision, he said.

Each patrol car will have two officers — one will drive and the other will be looking for drivers not paying attention on the road.

In the Tucson area, DPS officers are working mostly on the interstates, and also Arizona 86 and Oracle Road.

Last year, highway patrol officers investigated 709 crashes in the Tucson metropolitan area, and 401 of those collisions, or 57 percent, listed inattention as a contributing factor, said Scarber.

The stepped-up enforcement effort is part of a two-month pilot program that was funded through a $50,000 allocation by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, he said.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and “officers will continue to target collision-causing violations while documenting those directly attributed to driver distraction,” according to a news release.

Such data began to be collected since November, and it shows the top five distractions were: distractions outside the vehicle or on the road, reaching for objects inside the vehicle, using cellphones, adjusting other equipment, and other occupants in the vehicle, according to DPS records.

Distracted drivers show the same characteristics as impaired drivers — inconsistent speed, unsafe lane usage and tailgating, data show.

Officers are distributing informational brochures about distracted driving during traffic stops.

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