It is widely accepted by the public that texting while driving is dangerous and can lead to traffic accidents. Statistics show there were a reported 776 accidents in 2016 being listed as caused by a driver manually operating an electronic device.1 Those accidents resulted in five deaths and 275 injuries.2 Arizona is one of only three states in the country without extensive texting while driving laws.3 While most of us would agree that a bill that specifically bans texting while driving would create safer Arizona roads, the current bill introduced by Arizona Senator Mesnard does not specifically ban texting while driving at all. Here is the full proposed State Bill 1141:
“28-696. DISTRACTED DRIVING
A person may not drive a motor vehicle while distracted. A person violates this section if both of the following occur while operating a motor vehicle in the presence of or within the view of a peace officer:
- The person engages in any activity that is not related to the actual operation of the motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the state operation of the motor vehicle.
- The person operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is an immediate hazard to another person, a motor vehicle or property or the person does not exercise reasonable control of a motor vehicle under the circumstances.” 4
Here is our legal analysis of this bill in layperson’s words: If a police officer sees a person doing ANYTHING inside a car other than operating the car itself while driving and the officer subjectively deems that it is keeping the driver from the “safe operation of the motor vehicle” and they drive in ANY way that the police officer deems could potentially be dangerous or exhibit poor driving, than the officer can: (1) pull the driver over, (2) make them exit their car, (3) search the driver, (4) charge them with a crime, (5) tow their vehicle, (6) search their vehicle, and (7) even take them to jail.
Under the language of this Bill the following activities in a moving car would allow the officer to do all of the above to the driver: eating fast food or drinking coffee; changing the radio station; adjusting the air conditioning; looking at a map or printed directions; briefly looking over at a passenger in the front passenger seat or a child in a rear seat; answering a handsfree cell phone call or in any other way touching the dashboard or control panel; reaching into the center console for a pack of gum; applying any makeup or chap stick; giving your passenger a high five; and certainly texting.
As currently written this bill is a slippery slope that will lead to police officers pulling Arizona drivers over whenever they feel like, because doing nearly anything in a car other than keeping your hands at 10 and 2 while driving will give police the authority to do it.
Here is an example of a well-written anti-texting while driving law from our neighboring State of Nevada:
NV Rev Stat § 484B.165 (2013)
1. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person shall not, while operating a motor vehicle on a highway in this State:
(a) Manually type or enter text into a cellular telephone or other handheld wireless communications device, or send or read data using any such device to access or search the Internet or to engage in nonvoice communications with another person, including, without limitation, texting, electronic messaging and instant messaging.
(b) Use a cellular telephone or other handheld wireless communications device to engage in voice communications with another person, unless the device is used with an accessory which allows the person to communicate without using his or her hands, other than to activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function on the device.5
The attorneys of this office strongly encourage that our State Senate revisit the language of this bill before its passage, and strongly encourage those whom care about their civil rights in their vehicles to contact their representatives.
3 https://www.ghsa.org/sites/default/files/2018-06/DistractedDrivingLawChart_Jun18.pdf-Specifically, there are 47 other States, Washington D.C, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands that have ban on texting while driving ban for all drivers of any age