City looks ready to ban texting while driving

City looks ready to ban texting while driving

After revisions, Council will vote on issue within 30 days

You might as well get used to quieting those thumbs now.

While the Tucson City Council did not formally adopt a proposed ban on texting while driving Tuesday night, it clearly signaled it's likely to unanimously support such a ban when it comes back with some tweaks within the next 30 days.

The sparsely attended public hearing drew a handful of advocates, who testified a ban would make the streets safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

"We all know how much competition there is for our attention on the roads," said Kylie Walzak, representing the Living Streets Alliance, noting "distracted driving" has become such an epidemic that Webster's New World Dictionary made it the "word of the year" in 2009.

Daniel Judkins, a trauma educator at University Medical Center, said 60 percent of the 5,000 serious injury cases at the center each year are motor-vehicle accidents. With statistics showing as many as 20 percent of drivers on the road admit to texting while driving, Judkins said the numbers are probably as high as 50 percent for younger drivers. That's a problem, he said, because studies have shown that it's actually more dangerous to text and drive than it is to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs, given much slower reaction times.

Ian Johnson, representing the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee, agreed it would make Tucson a safer place. And while some may say it's best left to the state to enforce such a ban, he said, "It's clear that our Legislature has other priorities."

Critics questioned the effectiveness of such a ban and whether government should legislate personal responsibility, suggesting it would be difficult for police officers to determine whether a driver is texting or dialing his phone.

County resident Mark Spear suggested if the ban does pass, the council should make it a secondary enforcement offense, lest it risk too much police intervention, and launch it first as a pilot program to review its performance.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said he supports the ordinance, since he backs anything that improves the safety of the streets. "Just the fact of having this ordinance on the books will serve as a deterrent," he predicted.

Still, he agreed it could be hard to enforce, adding that it will take training, and probably a few test cases, for officers to be able to identify texters and make the charges stick in court.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said that while she supports the draft language, based on the Phoenix law, she isn't convinced of the need for all of the exemptions, particularly one for commercial drivers. She also wants tougher fines, suggesting $250 for an offense and as much as $1,000 for one involving a collision.

Councilman Steve Kozachik agreed on the higher fines, and wants to see primary enforcement.

The city staff was directed to return with a formal ordinance within 30 days.

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