Drunk vs Distracted Driving in Arizona
Arizona is one of the states that have quite strict DUI laws and punishments. When it comes to other traffic violations, however, Arizona is surprisingly lacking in adequate measures. Distracted driving in Arizona is one such violation that according to many could be even more detrimental than committing DUI.
The Legal Inconsistency
Even a first time DUI offense in Arizona could lead to severe penalties, including the loss of a license for up to 90 days. The installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) is another viable consequence for people who drive under the influence.
Such harsh penalties are in place to discourage DUIs – a serious offense that can lead to death, serious injuries and property damage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 2,912 people who lost their lives in drunk driving accidents in the state from 2003 to 2012. The State of Arizona Highway Safety Annual Report for 2016 suggests that the number of DUI offenses was 54,000 in 2015, up from 46,210 in 2013.
One may argue that distracted driving is a similarly serious problem that should be controlled via the introduction of harsh penalties. In 2016, Arizona ranked third among all states for pedestrian deaths. According to experts, distracted driving is one of the factors contributing to the 20-year high in fatalities. According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, almost 6,000 pedestrians lost their lives on Arizona roads during the year.
Currently, Arizona has no laws against the use of handheld devices and smartphones (apart from a limitation that affects school bus drivers). Thus, there are no laws against carrying out conversations or texting while driving.
In comparison, handheld phone use is prohibited in 14 states. In other parts of the country, the use of such devices is prohibited when an inexperienced driver is operating the vehicle. There’s a reason why such regulations are required. Multiple studies suggest that distracted drivers are involved in a big number of rear-end collisions. In addition, their reactions are eight percent slower than those of non-distracted drivers. In comparison, drivers who had consumed some alcohol did not exhibit a significant slowdown in their reactions.
Are the Regulations Going to Change?
Arizona could be taking some steps towards legally discouraging distracted driving in Arizona and the use of personal devices on the road.
In January 2017, a Senate committee passed a bill aimed at banning texting among teen and inexperienced drivers. If fully approved, this new regulation will prohibit the use of smartphones for the first six months after a person obtains their license.
While this is a rather small step towards outlawing the use of handheld devices, it still is a move in the right direction. If Senate Bill 1080 passes the Legislature, it will become an effective law in 2018.
The bill has seen some serious opposition. According to experts, teen drivers aren’t the only ones guilty of distracted behavior on the road. Adults are equally guilty of irresponsible smartphone use and getting engaged in other risky behaviors while operating an automobile.
Transportation Chairman Bob Worsley responded to such criticism by stating that a full ban on handheld device use will receive widespread opposition and it will not pass the Senate. Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable drivers was the first step after which additional regulations against distracted driving in Arizona could be proposed, Worsely told local media.
The first texting ban proposal was introduced in Arizona approximately 10 years ago by Senator Steve Farley. This first attempt, as well as the subsequent ban propositions have all failed. Senate Bill 1080 was proposed by Senator Karen Fann who attempted to initiate similar legislative changes in the past, as well. All of her prior efforts failed because of opposition by then Senate President Andy Biggs who opposed all attempts at the introduction of anti-texting regulations.