Phoenix police cite first driver for texting
Heidi Curiel, For the Tribune
Phoenix police cited their first and only driver on suspicion of sending a text message while driving on Nov. 5 -- more than six weeks after the Phoenix City Council made the act illegal on Sept. 19.
The city granted a warning period for texting while driving that extended until Oct. 19.
The honor for the first texting citation went to Bogdan Ciutac, 21, of Phoenix. The man was driving east on Bell Road near Ninth Street in his green 2003 Nissan Altima about 1:45 a.m. when an officer pulled him over.
Ciutac wasn’t speeding. He wasn’t driving under the influence. The officer said he was texting while driving.
“It is the only citation that has been issued since the city code went into effect,” Phoenx police detective Stacie Derge said.
Ciutac received the minimum fine of $194, according to Audra Hatch, a legal clerk at Phoenix Municipal Court. She said Ciutac’s traffic citation and fees are pending until a court date at 3 p.m. on Nov. 30.
Phoenix is among the first cities in the nation to introduce a ban on sending and reading text messages while driving. City officials said the ordinance was passed to reduce and prevent traffic collisions caused by drivers who are distracted by text messaging while their vehicle is moving.
“The text messaging code is a tool that officers have to keep the streets safer,” Derge said. “Officers have discretion whether or not to cite for it, and in many cases they may give warnings. In aggravated circumstances or in traffic accidents caused by text messaging, they may be more likely to cite for the violation.”
Drivers who were pulled over for texting during the warning period were given verbal warnings.
Exceptions to the ordinance apply to drivers who are communicating with emergency response operators during emergency situations. These operators include police, fire and ambulance dispatchers.
Despite the new ordinance, many motorists have expressed doubts about the ability of police to provide enforcement. The skeptics include Megan Brown, a 20-year-old interdisciplinary studies major at Arizona State University.
“I think it’s an important law that unfortunately no one is going to obey, including me,” Brown said. “Maybe it’ll catch on like DUI’s have.”
Brittany Budzynski, a 21-year-old psychology major at ASU, said police would have a hard time proving that a motorist was sending a text message and not just holding the cell phone or talking.
“It is obviously dangerous to text message while driving,” Budzynski said. “But if I were to get pulled over, I would ask the cop to prove that I was texting. Is the officer going to look through the call history? I would not be comfortable with someone going through my phone in order to incriminate me.”