Distracted Driving

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The Arizona Department of Public Safety announced plans to crack down on drivers who text or use their phones while driving. Linda Gorman of AAA Arizona will discuss what this means for Arizona drivers.

Ted Simons: The Arizona Department of Public Safety is looking to crack down on distracted driving, this after a number of high profile accidents involving motorists texting and otherwise using their cell phones while behind the wheel. Here to talk more about all this is Linda Gorman from AAA. Nice to see you again.

Linda Gorman: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: What exactly is DPS planning to do?

Linda Gorman: They announced that starting in January, they are going to crack down on people who text behind the wheel. And what they are going to do is using an existing speeding statute that calls for people who are driving too fast or force conditions that are reasonable or prudent. So, people who are driving too fast, basically, that allows them to apply, basically, text messaging to this statute. So, the belief here is that there is really no safe speed to text and drive.

Ted Simons: If the law says you have to drive at a reasonable and prudent speed and you are texting, there is no prudent and reasonable speed while texting.

Linda Gorman: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Do we have a distracted anti-texting or driving law?

Linda Gorman: We do not have a specific law in Arizona that targets distracted driving. We have a text messaging law in Phoenix and in Tucson, so that applies to the cities only. But we don't have, as you mentioned, we don't have a statewide ban, for instance, on texting while driving, or distracted driving, as a category.

Ted Simons: The ordinances that are out there, what kind of enforcement numbers do you have or do you have those numbers now?

Linda Gorman: Well, it varies state by state, so if you look at, there are 41 states that have texting bans, so I think that shows, and we often hear, is this enforceable and can this be enforceable? And I think that the fact that we have so many states that have these types of laws in place is testament to the fact that it can be enforced. Not only that, but the fact that our own DPS is deciding that, you know, enforcement is a reasonable measure to ensure, or to try and curb, this behavior from happening. So AAA applauds that effort.

Ted Simons: And there was an accident back in the spring on I-8 involving a trucker, looking at his phone, and a DPS officer was killed. It's a big factor, I would imagine, in this crackdown?

Linda Gorman: Well, I would imagine that that is a factor, but the fact of the matter is that text messaging while driving is becoming a public health epidemic. There is no other way to look at it. In fact, if you look at 2011 numbers alone, 400,000 people who were driving or in vehicles, were injured as a result of someone being distracted behind the wheel. And it's not just something that -- it's not age discriminatory. But, if you look at the numbers, it's even more startling when you look at the youngest and most inexperienced drivers as they engage in this behavior, more than any other age group. So the fact of the matter is, it's a very serious threat to our safety, and we're glad that someone is looking at this.

Ted Simons: You mentioned an epidemic, and I was wondering with all this information out here, and the obvious example, and just common sense dictates that texting especially, is so wrong. It's not decreasing at all but increasing?

Linda Gorman: Mobile use is widespread. More people than ever have mobile phones, and a recent poll conducted by the AAA foundation for traffic safety showed that as many as one in three adults admitted to using their phone behind the wheel to read a text message or an email, and those are just people that admit to it.

Ted Simons: Right.

Linda Gorman: So, you know that it's something that people are definitely doing. And they also, despite this, they know that it's very dangerous. In that same poll, 90% said that they viewed text messaging or emailing while driving as a serious threat. So the stats show that it's dangerous, and it shows -- they show that people do it, and we have all these tragic examples of what happens when people can continue to engage in this behavior, so I think that really underscores the need that something needs to be done.

Ted Simons: All right, so, DPS is using this, this reasonable and prudent speed law to go ahead and crack down. And I would imagine, obviously, it's DPS, so the freeways, the highways will be the main focus here?

Linda Gorman: Well, all of the roads that they patrol, but we're hoping, and in addition to the enforcement campaign, I think that what's so important here is that this elevates the discussion, and it keeps public discourse focused on such a critical issue. So, it's very important that they are stepping forward, and as a leader in driver safety, we applaud them for doing so.

Ted Simons: And are there areas where this kind of thing happens more often? Are there times of day? I noticed you mentioned it is not age discriminatory, you mentioned that, But are there pockets of information where we can find out that, that --

Linda Gorman: No, unfortunately, the data doesn't show that a specific time of day or -- the only thing that we do know for sure, or that's really one of the scariest things, is that the younger generation doesn't show any signs of, putting their phones away. And so, that's why we think it's especially important to make sure that our youngest and most inexperienced drivers don't use the phone while they drive. The first 1,000 miles of driving are the most dangerous. So the more that we can do to minimize the phone while we're in the car, the better we are.

Ted Simons: As far as progress on new state laws, as opposed to the city ordinances, what's going on there?

Linda Gorman: 41 states have enacted a text messaging ban that just applies to text messaging, and here in Arizona, as I mentioned, we don't have a ban. AAA has been a proponent for many years, of a ban but in addition to that, we have been lobbying for the past few years on a ban to target new drivers, so wireless bans for all new drivers, those who have their permit, and those who are under the sixth-month phase where they are driving unsupervised. We believe that the first 1,000 miles are so critically that they need to focus on learning how to drive and become safer and better drivers.

Ted Simons: You mentioned most people, that are surveyed, say that it's a bad thing, it should be stopped and they wind up doing it anyway. But as far as lawmakers are concerned, why has this not become a state law?

Linda Gorman: Well, it's a philosophical discussion, and some believe that, you know, distractions are a broad category. There are a variety of issues, a variety of behaviors that can be in a distracted driving law. But we believe, and the stats show, that texting, reading an email, and those things, are the mother of all distractions. We know that every two seconds take your eyes away from the road, it doubles your risk of crashing, so it's very important.

Ted Simons: All right, well, very good, and thank you very much for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

Linda Gorman: Thanks for having me.

Linda Gorman:AAA Arizona;

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