The Arizona Department of Public Safety recently announced its officers would be citing drivers for texting, encouraging them to go after inattentive motorists starting in January. This comes shortly after the growing problem of accidents caused by distracted drivers has come under intense scrutiny.
As reported in the Star, while there are no specific state laws against texting while driving, the DPS will use the “speed not reasonable and prudent” law to target distracted drivers on the highway. It contends texting is unsafe at any speed.
Although this effort is commendable, it is bound to have limited success. And while in matters of life and death even an imperfect solution is preferable to doing nothing, the questions becomes, why have we been doing nothing? Arizona needs to get serious about cellphone use behind the wheel.
Despite attempts by people like Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, to pass legislation, Arizona remains one of nine states that do not ban texting while driving. Work in the Legislature has so far been stymied by Senate President Andy Biggs, who claims no specific ban is needed since there are already laws on the books that can be applied.
Some would point to the latest DPS enforcement plan as a validation of Biggs’ position, but it is only the DPS looking for a way to live up to its name by attempting to combat the problem. Regrettably, officers will be fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
Unless there is a specific ban on texting while driving — and really, using the phone for any purpose without hands-free technology — law enforcement can do only so much.
Laws will never be a substitute for self-motivated correct behavior but they are there for a reason. Strict enforcement, used as part of a concerted effort to change the culture through awareness and education, is the only way the issue can be seriously addressed.
Until then, maybe some people will comply, some of the time; but a lot more will continue to be injured or killed on Arizona roads.