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Bill to ban cell use by novice drivers advances; texting bills stalled

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PHOENIX – A bill that would prohibit novice drivers from using cellphones except in emergencies advanced Thursday through the House Transportation Committee.

However, two bills seeking to ban texting by all drivers apparently are going nowhere.

Those measures, by Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, and Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, weren’t heard by the deadline for bills to get through committees in their originating chambers.

Linda Gorman, communications and public affairs director for AAA Arizona, said the organization supports a full ban on texting and driving but would be glad to see the more limited bill become law.

“We recognize the dangers that distracted driving poses,” she said.

HB 2359, authored by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, would prohibit the use of wireless communication devices for Class D or G permittees as well as for Class G driver’s license holders during their first six months of driving.

A Class G license allows those ages 16 to 18 to operate any vehicle except those requiring a motorcycle or commercial license. Class D licenses have the same restrictions but are only available to those 18 and older.

“I believe it is a good compromise to try and make our roads a little bit safer,” Fann said.

The House Transportation Committee, which Fann chairs, endorsed the measure unanimously.

Steele, a member of the committee, said she was happy to see the bill advance.

“I think it’s a beginning,” she said.

Stuart Goodman, a lobbyist for AAA Arizona, said the bill would expand on restrictions already in place for new drivers and serve as a tool for parents to improve the driving habits of teens.

“It’s something pretty powerful to say to your child: ‘It’s the law,’” he said.

Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla, D-San Luis, voted for the bill but said it suggests that young drivers should set the example.

“I don’t agree that it should be kids giving the example to adults,” he said. “It should be the other way around.”

Steele’s bill calling for a state ban on texting while driving, HB 2376, would fine offenders $50, rising to $200 if a texting driver is involved in an accident.

She said she plans to try again next session.

“It’s a safety concern,” she said. “It’s a deadly thing to text while driving.”

Farley’s bill, SB 1147, would create a $100 fine for a first offense, rising to $300 for a second offense. A driver involved in an accident while texting would be fined $5,000, rising to $10,000 if the accident kills someone.

There is no way to argue that texting and driving is even moderately safe, Gorman said.

“Texting really is the mother of all distractions,” she said.

Also not advancing was SB 1163, authored by Sen. Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, which would prohibit drivers of vehicles used for public transportation, such as buses, taxis and limousines, from using wireless handheld communication devices.

State law already forbids cellphone use by school bus drivers. Phoenix and Tucson have ordinances against texting while driving.

Fann said her bill would make roads safer.

“This is why we have restrictions,” she said. “It is important for them to have 100 percent of their concentration on learning how to drive, No. 1, and learning how to be a defensive driver.”