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Mon, July 22

Statewide cellphone-driving law sent to governor

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PHOENIX -- Arizona lawmakers gave final approval this afternoon to a comprehensive statewide ban on the use of hand-held cellphones by motorist, sending the bill already approved by the Senate to Gov. Doug Ducey for his anticipated signature.

The 44-16 vote by the House on HB 2318 came after lawmakers defeated a version with many of the same restrictions but a crucial difference: It would have been a secondary offense, allowing police to cite offenders only if they were pulled over for some other reason.

"We are only one of three states in the entire nation that does not ban text messaging and driving even though we know the frightening statistics,'' Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, told colleagues. He has been a champion of making texting while driving and the use of hand-held cell phone a primary offense, allowing police to stop motorists solely because they are breaking this new law.

And Campbell noted that Arizona cities and counties already have their own versions.

Under the state law, which takes effect in 2022, a first-time offense would result in a fine of between $75 and $149; subsequent violations could lead to fines up to $250.

But lawmakers also voted 31-29 for SB 1141, a totally separate measure to outlaw "distracted driving,'' sending that one, too, to Ducey. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the two bills are not in conflict.

He said it is clear that texting while driving is "inherently distracting'' and needs to be banned outright, as HB 2318 would do.

"But we need this bill for other activities,'' he said of SB 1141.

And Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said the problem with simply focusing on texting and cell phone use is that it fails to address other things that people do.

"I've seen people going down the road brushing their teeth, which I really don't understand,'' he told colleagues. And he's witnessed drivers trying to put sauce on a burrito they were trying to eat.

Grantham questioned what will happen when someone gets killed by a motorist who is reading the paper.

"Are we going to run a ban-newspapers-while-driving bill?'' he asked.

But unlike the strict texting ban, SB 1141 would not allow a police officer to stop a motorist for doing other things, like reading a newspaper. There also would have to be evidence that whatever the driver was doing also resulted in an immediate hazard or failure to control the vehicle.

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, argued that language is overly broad.

"We have a real profiling problem,'' she said, especially in communities of color. "This will be a tool to stop anyone in these communities.''

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, agreed, saying that increases the chance he might be stopped "depending on what part of town I'm in, depending on what I'm wearing, depending on what I'm driving.''

But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who was a Department of Public Safety officer, said those concerns are unwarranted.

"If I follow a car for more than two minutes I have ample reasons to stop it,'' he said.

While some people like Kanvanagh and Finchem voted for both the texting ban and the distracted driving measure, some did not.

The problem with HB 2318 according to Grantham is that it is overly broad.

He pointed out that, as approved, it does more than make it illegal for a motorist to have a cell phone in hand. It would also be a violation if someone "supports (a cell phone) with any part of the person's body'' unless the motorist is also using a hands-free device.

"That could be sitting in your lap,'' he complained. "That's way restrictive.''

House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said it would be one thing if the legislation was limited to things like texting or checking social media. But he said there's nothing inherently dangerous with talking on a cell phone, even without a hands-free device.

"There have been people who have driven their whole lives holding their phone up, talking on their phone, that have not had an accident, myself included,'' he said. Petersen said it would be one thing if this was "We're going to make an awful lot of people lawbreakers with this bill.''

That argument that people can talk and drive did not impress Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson.

"That doesn't mean its safe,'' he said.

But Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said HB 2318 actually can lead to less safety.

He pointed out that people get Amber alerts about missing children, and silver alerts on missing seniors, on their cell phones, information which includes a description of the vehicle being sought.

"That life is just as important,'' Cook said, with this law barring people from checking out these messages while driving.

Today's votes occurred with family members of those killed by texting motorists watching in the gallery. House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, specifically addressed the survivors of Clayton Townsend, an officer with the Salt River Police Department who was killed when he was struck by a texting motorists while conducting a traffic stop.

"We're going to get it done today,'' she told them.

"I understand the pain of what happened, of losing these officers,'' said Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. But he voted against the measure, saying "it goes a little bit too far.''

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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