Phoenix Bans Text Messaging

The City of Phoenix became one of the few (only?), places in the US that specifically bans text messaging. I would be much more happy to see a statewide ban — so to the extent that this is being used as leverage against a recalcitrant legislature I think it is a good thing.

Lil’-old Arizona lead the nation in increased traffic deaths last year. Arizona has a perennially high road fatality rate both per mile and per capita. When is the legislature going get off their ass and do something to improve public safety. The legislature controls the DPS (funding, and they of course write the laws), the Department of Public Safety.

Tinkering with DUI laws isn’t likely to bring about much change, “sober” drivers account for the majority of road fatalities. Lawmakers should be trying to bring down the incidence of dangerous driving, which includes DUI and much much more.

A real cell phone ban would be a reasonable place to start.

The actual law can be found in the Phoenix Code of Ordinances, Sec. 36-76.01

UPDATE: according to a November 20,2007 AP wire story, Phoenix has issued its first, and so far only, citation on Nov 5th. The story was carried by the Arizona Republic, but strangely didn’t do their own story.

A Nov 27, 2007 AZ Republic story says that Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson will again try and introduce a statewide cell phone ban while driving. However, obstructionists are lurking out there “Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said there are enough laws against distracted driving. He said further legislation is a waste of time. ‘If it comes to my committee I would hold it,’ Gould said”. That’s the spirit Ron! Let’s keep up Arizona’s stellar fatality record… we’re well ahead of the national averages, and he aims to keep it that way!

Drivers: How will Phoenix enforce texting ban?

Motorists ask how rule will be enforced

Casey Newton, The Arizona Republic, Sept. 21, 2007 12:00 AM
A day after the Phoenix City Council passed a ban on text-messaging while driving, drivers sent the council a new message: How are you going to enforce it?

In the words of Councilwoman Peggy Neely, the lone council member to oppose the ban: “How does an officer distinguish between me looking for a phone number and texting?”

The short answer is that the officer won’t.
“There’s obviously some inherent problems with the ordinance,” said Cmdr. Frank Milstead, who oversees the traffic bureau. “However, there are times when you can see people using two thumbs, sitting there with a BlackBerry or some other type of wireless device. Then we might have a little more ability to make the contact.”

On Thursday, the first day the ordinance took effect, police had no reports of stopping anyone for text-messaging while driving.

Meanwhile, two council members have asked their colleagues to consider expanding the ban to include all use of handheld cellphones.

The council voted this week to approve a ban on drivers sending or reading text messages while their cars are in motion.

The city is the first in Arizona and one of the first in the country to specifically ban texting while driving.

Phoenix also will lobby Arizona lawmakers to pass a statewide ban next year.

Ordinance violations
Through Oct. 20, drivers pulled over for texting will receive a warning. After that, they can be cited $100 for the act, or $250 if an accident is involved. With surcharges, the $100 fine comes to $202.40, and the $250 fine will cost $478.40.

“And that’s if you pay on time,” said Stephanie Ribodal, a city spokeswoman.

Phoenix police do not plan a widespread enforcement campaign, Milstead said.

Instead, they hope to educate drivers about the dangers of not paying attention to the road.

That means that many drivers pulled over for texting probably will escape with a warning, even after the official warning period.

Milstead said police are most concerned about drivers who cause accidents because of inattention to the road.

“If somebody involved in an accident, an aggravated situation . . . we would cite on that occasion,” Milstead said.

Councilman Greg Stanton, who proposed the Phoenix texting ban, said the ordinance is like any other traffic law in that it asks police to weigh the evidence in front of them before deciding whether to pull someone over.

“The fact that they will use their discretion does not mean we shouldn’t have a law in place,” Stanton said. “We want the police to use their discretion.”

Dangers of inattention
Vinnie Sorce, whose fiancee was killed in Glendale last month by a driver who was text-messaging, urged motorists to heed the new ordinance.

Stacy Stubbs, 40, was on her way to a doctor’s appointment when she was killed by an 18-year-old driver who drifted across the center line.

“Pay attention,” Sorce said. “Your car is not just a mode of transportation. It’s a 2-ton weapon. And people don’t understand that.”

Handheld ban next?
The Phoenix ordinance could touch off a series of local and state legislation regulating the use of wireless devices by motorists.

Phoenix passed its ordinance partially in the hope that it would pressure lawmakers to pass a statewide ban when they reconvene in January.

Lawmakers considered a driver text-messaging ban this year but did not act on it. Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said Phoenix’s ordinance would help the bill gain support.

In Phoenix, Councilmen Claude Mattox and Tom Simplot have sent a memo asking their colleagues to consider requiring motorists to use a hands-free device when using a cellphone.

“It’s something we should be open-minded about,” Stanton said of a potential hands-free requirement. “Our focus should be on community safety.”

6 thoughts on “Phoenix Bans Text Messaging”

  1. I live in Phoenix and I cant tell you how many times I look around when Im on the free way and I see people playing with their phones. Its so ridiculous we need to come down hard on these people. Just about every other day I see bad car accidents on the roads in Phoenix and it makes me nervous.

  2. handheld-talking bans, even if observed and enforced, are not likely to have any positive effect on traffic safety. And it smacks of “doing something”, without actually adressing the problem — and may lead to a false sense of security and have a perverse effect.
    (this is, by the way, the same idea / law that is being proposed in the city of Tucson in Nov 2011)

    it’s been well-established that the inattention related to talking on a cell phone doesn’t come from merely holding the device, see

    One easily foreseeable perverse effect of a handheld talking ban is the group of people who are smart enough to not presently make *any* cell phone calls while driving will upon learning of the new law obtain a handsfree device and begin talking; because it’s now perceived to be legally-sanctioned.

    Otherwise known as the law of unintended consequences.

    I think TEXTING bans are potentially useful — however getting people to comply and enforcing them is a bit of a question mark. The city of phx has had a texting ban for years.

  3. This is from LAB bulletin December 2011:
    Interstate Truck and Bus Driver Hand-held Cell Ban
    The Department of Transportation has issued a final rule banning the use of hand-held cell phones by interstate truck and bus drivers while the vehicles are in operation in order to combat distracted driving. The League has been working to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and support state laws to outlaw it. See our Advocacy Advance report Distracted Driving: A Bicycling Advocate’s Resource for more information.

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