Arizona Moves Closer to Ban on Texting While Driving

September 20, 2007

Phoenix City Council members want both hands on the wheel instead of texting and driving.

The council is moving closer to becoming the first city in Arizona and among the first in the nation to ban text-messaging while driving. Earlier this month, California banned teens from using any electronic device while driving.

The action is in response to a deadly accident last month when an 18-year-old Glendale woman strayed across the center line while driving and texting and collided with another driver, killing both.

The proposed Phoenix ordinance would hit texting drivers with fines of up to $460.

Some are criticizing the idea.

“It only focuses on one behavior,” said Susan Bitter Smith, executive director of the Arizona Cable Telecommunications Association. Any update to the reckless-driving statute should prohibit all unsafe behaviors, she said, “including smoking and changing CDs.”

Phoenix officials said driving and texting represents such an urgent problem that they had to act before Arizona lawmakers take up a possible statewide ban next year.

“This is common sense,” Councilman Dave Siebert said. “If people don’t have the common sense, we’re forced into protecting the public with something like this.”

Teenagers who have grown up firing messages back and forth with friends and family say they can drive and text with no problems. “If you’re a good driver, you can do it,” said Nick Simmons, an 18-year-old from Ahwatukee. “I can do two things at one time.”

A City Council subcommittee recommended the new rule to the full council, which appeared ready to pass it.

If approved, the ordinance would ban drivers from reading or sending text messages on their cell phones while their vehicles are in motion. Five states and the District of Columbia have already banned the use of handheld cell phones by drivers, which effectively prohibit texting. Washington state also outlawed texting while driving.

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