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Texting ban reaches dead end; booster seat bill advances

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PHOENIX – The latest attempt to ban texting while driving in Arizona has reached a dead end at the Legislature, the sponsor says.

“They’re not going to do something until somebody causes a catastrophic, wish-it-never-happened accident,” said Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert.

Similar bills have failed repeatedly in recent years, but supporters of a ban were buoyed by the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation in December that states ban all use of portable electronic devices, including cellphones with hands-free devices. They also pointed to anti-texting ordinances in Phoenix and Tucson.

Urie’s proposed ban won an endorsement from the House Transportation Committee but didn’t receive a hearing from the House Judiciary Committee. He then revived it in a floor amendment to another bill that the House later voted down.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who has introduced five texting-while-driving bills since 2007, said committee heads often refuse to hear bills they oppose. But he said it’s important to continue the effort.

“That’s not the sort of thing that you ever stop trying to do because the next life we save might be our own,” he said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Vic Williams, R-Tucson, said while it can be difficult for sponsors to move their bills through committees opponents may compromise over time.

“You have to respect the legislative process,” he said.

Thirty-five states have laws against texting while driving, and the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2010 banned texting by drivers of large trucks and buses.

However, new drivers may wind up unable to text while driving – or use cellphones at all. A bill authored by Sen. John McComish, R-Ahwatukee, that received Senate approval would ban those with learner’s permits and minors who have had their licenses for six months or less from using wireless devices for any purpose while driving.

While supporters of a broad texting ban have reason to be disappointed, the news is better for those who have tried for years to change Arizona’s standing as one of three states that don’t require booster seats for automobile passengers between the ages of 5 and 8 and under 4 feet 9 inches tall.

HB 2154, authored by Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, has won House approval and was awaiting action in the Senate.

For nearly 20 years, the National Transportation Safety Board has urged states to pass laws requiring booster seats. Arizona’s current law requires children to be in car seats until age 5.

Farley said he was pleased to see the booster seat bill progress, noting that many of the arguments opposing texting bans are used against booster seats.

“People will believe that if a bill infringes upon their idea of freedom, then they will vote against it,” he said.

AAA Arizona spokeswoman Michelle Donati said requiring booster seats would be a big step forward.

“By having that booster seat law, because we know that parents look to the law for guidance, we’ll be providing parents with guidance that’s going to keep their child safe,” she said.