When I heard of this ban last year, I thought it would be a lot like the seatbelt law. Except even more useless. Seatbelt laws do save lives in some cases (where the accidents would be helped and not hindered by wearing a belt), but enforcing them is almost impossible unless the driver is pulled over for something else and still too stupid to buckle up to avoid the ticket.
The local paper had some feedback from Phoenix officers who have been tasked with enforcing this. I have to agree with their experience so far, I don’t see how it can be done without crossing the line.
Only a handful of drivers have been cited under Phoenix’s ban on text messaging while driving, largely because of a loophole that makes the ordinance nearly impossible to enforce.
Backers of a similar proposal that would make it illegal to text while driving throughout the state have lauded the nation’s fifth-largest city as a leader in efforts to curb unsafe driving.
But since Oct. 20, when Phoenix’s permanent texting ban took effect, officers have cited only three motorists, according to police statistics obtained by The Arizona Republic Tuesday. Police did not have details on the citations.
The way the ordinance is written makes it difficult to prove a motorist actually was texting, said Phoenix Officer David Dager, chairman of the 2,300-member Phoenix Law Enforcement Association.
A police officer cannot demand that motorists turn over a hand-held device even if they are pulled over for text messaging, he said. Even after an accident, drivers suspected of text messaging are not required to surrender their cellphone, BlackBerry or other personal digital assistants (PDA).
“I can’t grab their phone from them. I can’t take it from them. The code doesn’t allow us to do that the way it’s written now,” said Dager, who patrols Phoenix streets on a motorcycle and has never pulled over a motorist under the texting ordinance. “It really feels to us like it’s unenforceable.”
Despite the low number of citations, City Councilman Greg Stanton, who proposed the Phoenix ban last summer after two deadly texting-related accidents, said the ordinance serves as a deterrent to, and increases public awareness about, dangerous driving behavior.
It also gives officers the ability to tack on additional penalties for motorists pulled over for erratic driving, he said.
“It is important the City Council sends a message to the community about what is safe activity and what is not, and text messaging while driving is not,” Stanton said.
The ordinance bars drivers within Phoenix city limits from either sending or receiving text messages while their vehicle is moving. The law does not apply to public-safety officials on the job or motorists in an emergency situation.
Offenders can be fined up to $250 plus another $210 in surcharges.
The law closely resembles a proposal introduced in the state Legislature, House Bill 2396, that would outlaw text messaging while driving in Arizona. But the bill has little support from House Republicans and is not expected to receive a hearing.
While I still feel it’s unsafe to be doing anything while driving (minus actually driving), there’s really nothing we can do to forcefully enforce this.
Although, I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t like these little laws that cost taxpayer money but produce zero results. I could see insurance companies enacting fines for collisions based on negligence due to cell phone usage, but only in the cases where it can be proven. Even then, that has nothing to do with the government.
It’s one of those “feel good” laws that people nod their head and get happy about.