A freshman state lawmaker is hoping to force motorists to give their thumbs a rest — at least while they’re behind the wheel. Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, wants to create the crime of “DWT,” or driving while texting.
Farley said the increasingly popular activity of sending text messages on cell phones and personal digital assistants is making the state’s roadways hazardous.
Finger-happy motorists could wind up with $50 fines — $200 if they’re involved in an accident — and not just for pecking away at those tiny keyboards. House Bill 2129 would make it equally illegal to read a text message while the vehicle is in motion.
The proposal is likely to get a fight from the mobile phone industry, which encourages its customers to add text messaging to their basic voice service, for a fee.
“People ought to be self-sufficient enough that government shouldn’t have to tell them how to drive safely,’’ said Susan Bitter Smith, who lobbies for several cellular companies.
She said there is no evidence that text messaging is any more distracting than other things that remain legal, ranging from applying mascara to eating a cheeseburger.
Farley conceded his evidence is strictly anecdotal, with no hard facts and figures to show how many accidents are caused by texters. Nor can he say for sure that texting is more hazardous than other things drivers do — other than driving.
But he said AAA reports that distracted drivers are even more dangerous than drunken drivers.
“This is one clear place to draw the line,’’ Farley said.
“One would presume people would be smart enough not to do that,’’ responded Bitter Smith, who said society should not rely on government intervention to keep everyone safe.
Farley said he doesn’t expect police to go out and look for text-messaging motorists. Farley said his measure is crafted so that the only time someone would be cited is if they were in an accident or stopped for some other reason.
But Farley said he expects just putting the law on the books would deter about 80 percent of the people who now text behind the wheel. “There’s an enforcer in your head that will take over as long as people get the message that this is a hazardous thing to do and we should stop doing it,’’ he said.
Bitter Smith has been successful in blocking other attempts to restrict the use of the cell phones that her clients sell. She has repeatedly beaten back proposals to make it illegal to talk on a mobile device without a hands-free headset.