Statewide texting-while-driving ban one step closer to reality

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PHOENIX – After dying two years in a row, lawmakers have pushed Arizona’s statewide texting-while-driving ban one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate approved SB 1538 by a vote of 18 to 12 Tuesday. The measure now moves to the House.

“We applaud the legislators who have pushed this forward,” said AAA Arizona’s Michelle Donati. “We hope that momentum carries into the House.”

According to AAA Arizona, texting while behind the wheel is the most dangerous distraction in which a driver can engage.

“For every 2 seconds you take your eyes off the road, you double your risk of being in a crash,” Donati explained.

There are three components to a distraction: Taking your eyes off the road; Taking your mind off the task at hand – driving; Taking your hands off the steering wheel.

“The reason texting while driving is the most dangerous distraction on the road is because it encompasses all three of these things,” Donati said. “You have to take your eyes off the road, your mind off the task at hand, and yours hands off the wheel. Really, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who text message while driving are 23 times more likely to either be involved in a wreck or narrowly avoid one.

IF SB 1538 becomes law, texting while driving would become non-moving civil traffic violation carrying a fine of $50. That penalty would jump to $200 if the motorist is involved in a wreck while texting and driving.

The law does not affect the making or receiving of telephone calls while driving. It only applies to reading, writing or sending text messages. In addition, texting would be allowed if the car is stopped in traffic, but not at a red light or a stop sign.

A survey by the Behavior Research Center last year showed that nearly 90 percent of Arizonans favored a statewide ban on texting while driving. Arizona is one of only a few states that does not have such a ban.

Right now, Phoenix is the only city in the state that does have a texting-while-driving ban. That was passed in 2007.

If passed, the law would go into effect in 2012, and there would be a warning period before the fines are imposed.