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Bid for texting-while-driving ban stalls once again at Legislature

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PHOENIX – The latest attempt to create a statewide ban on texting while driving is stalled at the Legislature.

SB 1218, authored by Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, would add Arizona to a list of 39 states and the District of Columbia that have texting bans for all drivers. With Friday the last day for Senate bills to be considered, it has yet to be heard and would need approval from three committees to reach the Senate floor.

“This is something that is too important to stop,” said Farley, who has authored or helped sponsor for six previous bills on the subject. “I really think that every day we go without a law banning texting while driving is a day that we’re endangering people on our roadways, and we need to do what it takes to try to stop that carnage.”

Michelle Donati, public affairs supervisor at AAA Arizona, said the Legislature remains unresponsive on a complete ban on texting while driving despite overwhelming public support demonstrated by opinion polls.

“We know that distracted driving is one of the biggest issues on our roads today and that texting while driving is one of the most dangerous of all distractions,” Donati said. “AAA considers it to be the mother of all distractions.”

Phoenix and Tucson have ordinances banning texting while driving.

Farley said that Senate President Andy Biggs has opposed texting bills in the past and did so again by assigning SB 1218 to three committees: Transportation, Government and Environment and Public Safety. Such a track makes passage much more difficult, he said.

“When I get a triple-assignment I attempt to get those heard in all three committees, but obviously that’s very difficult, particularly for a Democrat,” Farley said.

Farley said that Biggs, who previously served as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, didn’t hear his first texting-while-driving bill in 2007.

“I don’t think it’s fair to have one person with the power hold up a public hearing on a bill that is supported by, in what I’ve seen in polls, more than 90 percent of the Arizona public,” Farley said. “But things around here aren’t often fair.”

Biggs didn’t respond by late Tuesday afternoon to requests for comment made through Mike Philipsen, spokesman for the Senate Republican majority.

Two other Senate bills on texting while driving have had hearings this session.

SB 1241, authored by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, would ban any use of wireless devices while driving for those under age 18 with driving permits and for the first six months after receiving a class G license.

“Not one year goes by that you don’t hear of horrendous accidents, mostly involving teenagers and texting,” Melvin told the Senate Transportation Committee, which endorsed the measure Tuesday.

Mesa resident Ron Vokoun told the committee that his wife was severely injured while bicycling in 2005 when she was hit by an adult driver who was talking on her cellphone. He said his wife sustained 30 broken bones and two concussions and received more than 500 stitches.

“Although this specific bill would not impact what happened that day, it’s a step,” Vokoun said.

Farley is a primary sponsor of SB 1393, authored by Sen. Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, which would prohibit all wireless device usage by mass transit operators. The Senate Transportation Committee endorsed the measure Tuesday.

“This is just another step in trying to make our roadways safer,” McGuire told the committee.

Arizona already has a law in place that prohibits school bus drivers from using wireless devices.

Farley said that not all hope is lost for a full texting-while-driving ban this year.

“Bills are never totally dead until the session ends, and there’s a few months before that happens,” Farley said.

If a similar bill makes it to the floor, Farley said that bill can be amended to include the provisions in SB 1218.

“I’ll be looking for other related bills on the floor and trying to force debate on the floor because I believe if it gets to the floor, it will win,” Farley said.