DPS scrutinizes texting, other distracted driving leading to traffic accidents

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Public Safety is renewing enforcement of distracted drivers, focusing on violations such as speeding, following another vehicle too closely and failing to use a turn signal when changing lanes.

“One of the things we have done over the last year is to better track those violations as a result of distracted driving so we can evaluate those numbers to better guide our enforcement efforts,” spokesman DPS Kameron Lee said in an email.

“Our hope is to reduce crashes and save lives by bringing more awareness of the cause and effect of distracted driving,” he said.

Distractions that Lee notices among drivers include eating while driving and interacting with other passengers and cell phone use, which is more common among younger drivers.

“Millennials…grew up texting and having cell phones, and that is more of a habit for them and a common theme for them to have, so maybe we see that with them in the vehicle and feeling comfortable using some of those devices while driving because they have always had one,” Lee said in an interview.

Arizona and Montana are the only two states that do not ban texting while driving for all or most motorists, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All other states have some form of ban on texting while driving.

Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff ban texting while driving and the only statewide law in Arizona bans school bus drivers from cell phone use. AAA Arizona is advocating for Senate Bill 1080, which would prohibit teen drivers from the use of all wireless communication devices.

A report from the AAA Foundation for Public Safety cited people ages 19 to 24 as the worst-behaved drivers, saying 88 percent have engaged in at least one risky behavior, like texting, while driving in the past 30 days.

More than 35,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2015, a seven percent higher fatality rate than the previous year, the report found. That was the highest year-over-year increase in five decades.

The report also revealed millennials are 1.6 times more likely to read a text message or email while driving, and twice as likely to type or send one.

Nearly 12 percent of millennials also feel driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in a school zone is acceptable, and nearly half reported driving through a red light.

The results of the report were part of the AAA foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index that identifies driver behaviors and attitudes that, if changed, could reduce injuries and save lives.

“We need drivers to realize that what they do on the road does have an effect and it is very concerning to see that these young millennial drivers are admitting to feeling that these behaviors are okay,” said Kelly Potts, spokeswoman for AAA Arizona.