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Lawmaker seeks to ban wireless device use by drivers under age 18

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After several years of failed bills attempting to curtail distracted driving caused by smartphones and other wireless devices, AAA Arizona is pinning its hopes this year on a bill aimed at those under 18.

While supporting efforts to create a state law against texting while driving – and there is legislation this session aiming to do that – the organization sees the most promise in HB 2343, authored by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Fann’s bill would prohibit those ages 16 and 17 from using cellphones for any purpose while driving. Those drivers receive what’s known as a graduated, or Class G, license.

Similar legislation has failed during the past three legislative sessions, but AAA Arizona spokeswoman Michelle Donati said supporters can point to a reduction in fatal accidents caused by drivers under age 18 because of restrictions that have been added through the years.

One example: In the first six months with a graduated license a driver can’t operate a vehicle carrying more than one passenger under age 18 unless the passengers are siblings or unless a parent or legal guardian is in the front passenger seat.

“We know that law has been effective,” Donati said. “We also know that states that have implemented additional measures to their GDL (graduated driver’s license) bills have seen improvements on a number of accidents.”

Donati said cellphones an integral part of teens’ lives.

“The bill will essentially take it out of their hands for the first six months of driving,” she said.

Fann, who authored a similar bill last year that passed the House but wasn’t taken up by the Senate, said she hopes the bill succeeds this time around but understands why there is opposition.

“I totally realize there are people who don’t like no-texting bills because they believe it’s too much government intervention and it’s the camel’s nose under the tent,” she said. “I appreciate that they feel this way; I just want to address teenage driving.”

Fann said her bill would help teen drivers learn safe driving habits early.

“There are already restrictions on the GDL bill. It only makes sense to me and most other people that there is one other restriction,” she said. “Looking at your cellphone while driving is not the best habit to adopt.”

Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said he considers drivers with graduated licenses on probation because of their lack of experience.

“I support the concept of prohibiting young people from talking on their phone while driving,” he said. “I hope we get a good hearing.”

Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff are among cities that ban texting while driving, but despite numerous attempts over the years Arizona is one of two states without a law against texting while driving or all cellphone use by at least teen drivers. There is a state law barring school bus drivers from using wireless devices on the job.

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, and Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, have authored bills that would ban texting while driving for all. Farley’s was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, Jan. 28, before the Senate Government Committee, while Steele’s had yet to be assigned to a committee.

Farley, who has tried to pass bills curtailing distracted driving in the past, said he is for Fann’s bill but isn’t holding his breath. He said Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, opposes such legislation because Biggs thinks avoiding distracted driving is an individual’s responsibility.

“It should be for people who drink and drive, but people do it anyway, which is why there are laws against it,” he said. “It’s just as bad, so it should be just as illegal.”

A message left with Biggs’ communications adviser, Mike Philipsen, wasn’t returned by late Thursday afternoon.