Tuesday, January 15, 2013
AZLeg must be careful on civil rights if texting bill pushed
Let me also be clear I believe there are good intentions behind efforts to make a new law in Arizona outlawing texting while driving. I listened to these good intentions as a state lawmaker from 2009-12 and I respect them, but we all know good intentions can have unintended bad consequences.
Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, told the Cronkite News the state’s law against reckless driving should already cover texting while driving. “Texting while driving is something that is ridiculous and totally unacceptable, but the question I always ask is the same: How do you enforce it?” Gutier said. I agree.
In addition to being hard to enforce, there are other concerns lawmakers should consider. In a state with a long history of racial profiling by some cops, we should be very careful to not create a new vague reason for police to stop you. Although it is not clear that police in Arizona are even asking for a new law against texting.
It's difficult to understand how an officer would know the difference between you texting or dialing a phone number, turning off your ringer, deleting a voicemail, or other non-texting key punches of your phone, especially with the fast and limited view offered in most traffic situations. Anyone could be considered a violator it seems for simply for holding a phone in their hand and pushing a key.
This unavoidable phone use vagueness could lead to texting while driving claim abuses by some cops, for example Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies, who may want to pull someone over because they 'look suspicious', which we know too often means the driver is poor, black, latino or a woman. Most cops seem good, but some rogue cops would have a new open door to stop you to investigate alleged texting, then also ask to search your car or otherwise harass the driver or passengers without a solid reason to stop you in the first place. In a free country police should always have to have a strong and clear reason to stop you.
An unneeded new law on texting could also lead to difficult cases and expensive court costs for the state and citizens charged. It would seem very hard for the government to meet its burden of proving someone was actually texting while holding their phone. If you say you were calling your mom, would police then confiscate and search your phone to determine if you were texting? If so that clearly opens up a lot of significant constitutional and privacy concerns.
Highway Safety Director Gutier also said education is the best way to stop texting while driving. I agree. I urge my former colleagues in the legislature, new freshmen and Gov. Jan Brewer to be very careful not to let good intentions lead to bad consequences for our civil rights.