Texting and driving: Should Arizona ban it?Posted: Updated:
Three years ago, a tiny baby -- just 29 days old -- was thrown from her stroller and landed in a Tempe gutter. Her mom was tossed 30 feet. When she crash-landed in some rocks, her skull was fractured in three different places.
"They told my husband that … well, that pretty much I shouldn't be here," Amy Kiefer-Berard said.
The high school teacher does not remember that day. Fighting for her life, she did not wake up for nearly a month. When she did finally regain consciousness, she had to relearn basic skills we take for granted -- how to walk, how to eat.
"I pulled seven feeding tubes out of my body," Kiefer-Berard said. "I couldn't even eat. And that's because this guy decided to text something?"
The family was crossing the street when they were hit by a car that had been rear-ended by a man who was texting and driving. That man was cited only for driving on a suspended license.
"No charges were brought against him for what he did to us," Kiefer-Berard said.
As of now, 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Island "ban text messaging for all drivers," according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Arizona and three other states do not. Of those three, though, two have text messaging bans for young drivers -- younger than 21 in Missouri and younger than 18 in Texas.
Arizona and Montana do not even have that.
The only distracted-driving law Arizona has is a ban on cell phone use for school bus drivers. That's it.
What will it take for change to happen?
"If we died, I think if we hadn't recovered and they put a teacher and a baby in the grave, things would have changed," Kiefer-Berard said.
The next year, Department of Public Safety Capt. Tim Huffman was killed by somebody texting and driving. Arizona still did not ban texting while driving.
Video showed truck driver Jorge Espinosa on his smartphone when he plowed through several emergency vehicles along Interstate 8. Huffman died at the scene.
Espinosa's lawyer said there was no law banning texting and driving.
It's true, but it's not for lack of effort that goes back nearly a decade.
"I was the first legislator in Arizona to proposed banning texting while driving in January 2007," Sen. Steve Farley said.
And when he did, he was ridiculed. It was said that he was "wasting his skills" on a bill that had "no hope of passing."
But he was not deterred. Farley has tried every year since then to pass a law -- with no luck.
In 2007, Washington became the first state to pass a ban on texting while driving.. Recognizing the public safety epidemic, nearly every state has since followed suit.
But not Arizona.
"So, it's particularly sad that we're one of the last two in the country that have no ban on anybody using texting while driving,' Farley said.
It's a behavior as socially unacceptable now as drunk driving, but we see it ever day -- drivers focused on their phones rather than on the road.
Farley believes his foresight nine years ago could have made Arizona's roads safer. He says drivers' safety in our state has been compromised by politics.
"There's been primarily one person who has disagreed with this, to this point," he said.
The one person is the most powerful man in the state Senate -- Senate Pres. Andy Biggs.
"He doesn't think more laws on the books will make a difference," Farley said.
There are seat belt laws, DUI laws and texting bans nationwide, all proven to make a difference.
What's different about Arizona?
We tried for weeks to ask Biggs, but he would not go on camera.
It's a question national safety groups like StopDistractions.org are now asking they focus on our state.
For the past five years, cell phone campaigns like AT&T's "It can wait" have been raising awareness of the dangers, which not include the rampant use of social media.
"Through research, we found out that 7 in 10 people actually post something or do something while they're driving, other than texting while they're driving," Toni Morales of AT&T said.
The campaign travels the state, sharing personal stories of loss -- tragedy after tragedy that did not have to happen.
There also is a simulator that shows just how quickly things can go wrong when you take your eyes off the road.
I tried it and it took my breath away.
"It's really about trying to change a behavior," Morales said.
Often changes in behavior start with changes in the law.
"We have specific laws about DUI; we have specific laws about speeding," Farley said. "So there's no reason we shouldn't have a specific law about something about driving while texting, which is as dangerous -- if not more dangerous -- than even drunken driving."
"Drivers who are texting while behind the wheel have a 23 percent higher chance of causing a crash," according to the Brain Injury Society. "That is equivalent to downing four beers and then getting behind the wheel."
But while Arizona has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, it does not address texting and driving.
Numbers from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety show Arizona had a 15-percent jump in fatalities last year. The agency continues to see the "horrendous practice" of cell phone use or texting while driving.
A poll by AAA says 86 percent of its members favor some kind of cell phone ban for new drivers.
Even cities have taken it upon themselves to outlaw the behavior because the state won't.
Today Kiefer-Berard has two little girls and still needs help for her traumatic brain injury.
She says everyone knows being on your phone behind the wheel is wrong, but points out that personal responsibility and common sense aren't cutting it.
"If we're not responsible enough to take care of ourselves, to think about it, then maybe we need a law, on the books to say, 'Hey, if you're not gonna think about it, then we're gonna make you think about it,'" she said.
If it's not in you to simply resist the urge to use your smartphone while you're driving, there are a number of apps that can help. One turns on automatically when you're driving and lets anybody who texts you know that you're behind the wheel and cannot respond.
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