If evaluated only by the numbers of tickets given — 50 in the past two years — it would appear that Tucson’s ordinance against texting while driving is unnecessary.
The low number, however, is evidence that the ordinance isn’t enough to change people’s behavior. The likelihood of getting a ticket is so low that it’s not a deterrent. Increased enforcement would get word-of-mouth going, which would help.
While we support the Tucson ordinance, the can-I-do-it-here? patchwork is confusing.
Arizona is one of only two states that do not have a texting-while-driving ban, and that must change.
Unfortunately, we don’t hold out much hope that the state Legislature will act. Bills have been defeated or outright ignored since 2007, and we do not have much faith that Republican lawmakers will see the light by the time the next session begins in January.
University of Arizona journalism student and Star apprentice reporter Nicole Thill reported Sunday that one reason officers issue so few tickets for messaging or emailing while driving is that it’s difficult to prove that’s what the person was doing.
Tucson police Officer Shawn Ramsey said officers will often pull someone over if the person is driving dangerously, like veering into another lane. If the driver admits to texting or emailing while driving, then the officer would issue a ticket.
“Someone could be driving down the road looking at pictures or watching a movie on the Internet,” Ramsey said, “and according to the city statute, that is not a violation.”
Expanding the ordinance to include using a phone for any reason would cause tickets to “skyrocket,” he told Thill. Maybe that’s a step Tucson and surrounding communities need to take to get the message through.
It’s clear from watching motorists — everyone has seen the weavy driver — that the message isn’t getting through. It’s not only texting — the overall cause is distracted driving — but focusing on texting and driving is a good place to start.
Pima County and surrounding municipalities should follow Tucson’s lead and prohibit texting and emailing while driving. It’s not as good as a statewide ban, but it’s a beginning.
In the meantime, just don’t text and drive. No message is worth the danger.