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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UAPD steers clear of texting and driving ban

Alex+Kulpinski%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0APhotoillustration+of+UA+student+texting+while+driving.
Alex Kulpinski
Alex Kulpinski/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Photoillustration of UA student texting while driving.

A new law allows Tucson police to punish drivers caught texting, but UAPD can’t enforce it.

Tucson City Council adopted the ban on Feb. 22, and it will take effect beginning April 1.

As for why the University of Arizona Police Department is unable to cite offenders, it’s because they only abide by state laws, not city ordinances, according to Sgt. Juan Alvarez, public information officer for UAPD. The Tucson Police Department, being a local police force, can pull over and cite anyone for the act.

Council members said they decided to pass the ordinance because it will help keep pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers safe. Karin Uhlich, the council member representing Ward 3 and one of the bill’s sponsors, said she was inspired to co-sponsor the bill after hearing a University of Arizona Medical Center physician present statistics behind the dangers of texting while driving. The act impairs a driver four and a half times more than driving under the influence, according to Uhlich.

Steve Kozachik, the council member representing Ward 6 and another co-sponsor of the bill, said that both he and his constituents have been developing the ordinance since last November.

“The point is to put into place a disincentive to those of us who have put the safety of others at risk by texting while operating a motor vehicle,” he said.

The minimum citation for texting while driving will be $100, but if the driver is involved in an accident due to the act, it could be as much as $250. Uhlich said she wanted the fine to be higher, and that driving and focusing on the road should be a number one priority.

“It is common sense that distracting driving undermines the public’s safety, and a citizen should be cited for putting others in harm,” she said.

The City of Phoenix also passed a texting-while-driving ordinance, but back in 2007. Tucson is still trying to figure out how the ban will work and is asking the Phoenix Police Department for pointers, according to Maria Hawke, TPD’s public information officer.

“The Tucson Police Department will enforce the law by trusting the police officers on patrol,” Hawke said. “We do not feel that there will be any required extra training regarding this new law.”

Only Tucson police officers and public safety workers are entirely exempt from the new law. Council members are also exempt if they tell the officer the text is work-related.

Tyler Jorgensen, a political science junior, said he does not agree with the ban because it is too vague to work efficiently. Jorgensen, who is from Phoenix, said he felt this way when the ordinance passed there.

“It (the ban) did not work well, he said. “Police and city officials then began to notice that many people were using the excuse that it was their iPod or another electronic device.”

Phoenix has now changed its ordinance, making it illegal to use any electronic devices while driving. Jorgensen said Tucson needs to do this as well if they want the ban to work.

Patrick Cline, an undeclared sophomore, said he supports the new city ordinance after losing one of his friends last year to an accident that was suspected to have been involved with texting while driving. His friend’s accident created a four-car pile up in addition to a death, he said.

“When you are driving and texting, you’re not only putting your own life at risk but others’ lives in your hands are at risk,” he added.

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