So which is more dangerous: Sending a text message while driving or trying to fish that last french fry out of the bag? Sen. Charlene Pesquiera, D-Tucson, said she believes it is the former. And she is trying to persuade her colleagues to make the practice illegal.
But the one-term senator is getting resistance from many of her colleagues who question the need to single out one kind of driver behavior for punishment while other kinds remain legal.
Pesquiera is trying to tack on an amendment to an unrelated bill dealing with the state Department of Transportation to spell out that people may not use a cell phone or personal digital assistant to read, write or send a text message while the vehicle is in motion.
That brought some derision from Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City.
He said it is already a crime to operate a motor vehicle “in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property.” This, Gould said, is little more than “feel-good legislation.”
Gould said if his colleagues are insistent on creating new crimes they should not stop at texting. He said they should similarly outlaw everything from changing the radio station and talking to passengers in the vehicle to smoking, eating and drinking.
“I would assume that if you’re trying to get that last ice cube out of a 60-ounce Big Gulp and it covers both your eyes that that inherently is reckless driving,” he said. “And that needs to be addressed just as well as texting.”
“I guess it’s OK to put makeup on because it’s not on this list,” added Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park.
Pesquiera, however, said her own experience proves texting is different, citing an incident that occurred when she was leaving the Senate parking lot.
“I had an individual who came out in front of me and slammed on his brakes,” she said.
“He was texting, and he had his texting device on top of his steering wheel,” Pesquiera continued. “He did not even acknowledge me. He did not see what he had almost created.”
Anyway, Pesquiera said just making the act illegal will cut down on texting, which she said is especially popular with motorists younger than 25.
As proof, she cited a poll done by a company in the business of marketing technology that uses voice recognition software to allow people to send text messages orally — something that would remain legal even if Pesquiera’s measure were adopted. That nationwide survey of people age 13 and older found 85 percent of those responding saying they would not drive while texting if it were illegal.
Pesquiera’s proposal would levy a $100 fine for those caught driving while texting, with that increasing to $250 if there were a crash.
Gould said if the practice is as dangerous as Pesquiera claims, the penalties should be higher.
But Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, a supporter of the proposal, said that’s the appropriate fine.
Pesquiera’s measure also drew some criticism for its exceptions, notably one allowing motorists with commercial driver’s licenses to send text messages while operating their vehicles. She said that is justified because people with those licenses “undergo hours of training.”
That, however, is not true.
Motor Vehicle Division spokeswoman Cydney DeModica said there are special requirements for those hauling hazardous waste and school bus drivers.
But she said those who get a commercial driver’s license, necessary to operate a motor vehicle for a living, are not required to have special training. Instead, they must simply pass a written test and be checked out while driving the type of vehicle for which they want to be licensed.