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Senate panel advances bill to ban texting by Arizona drivers

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PHOENIX – With several relatives of those killed by distracted drivers urging support, a Senate committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would prohibit sending text messages while driving.

“Eight seconds is what it took to kill my brother, DPS Officer Timothy Huffman,” Warren Huffman, twin brother of the slain officer, told the Senate Government Committee. “Eight seconds is what this driver of this truck took away from his view of the highway and instead was looking at Facebook.”

“We need this law, and I ask you as legislators, please, please keep your people safe,” said Tammy Huffman, Warren Huffman’s wife.

Timothy Huffman died in the line of duty in May 2013 when a tanker truck struck his patrol car on Interstate 8 outside of Yuma. The truck driver is accused of being distracted by looking at his phone and failing to see that the interstate was closed.

SB 1102, authored by Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, would have Arizona join 44 other states that have banned text messaging by all drivers.

Farley has pressed unsuccessfully for a law through the years, but he said he was optimistic this time around because his bill has the support of Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the committee’s chairman.

At Kavanagh’s request, the bill was amended to apply only to entering a text message rather than looking at a message. It also would allow drivers to enter and look at GPS information and phone numbers they are dialing.

Kavanagh said the bill would never become law if it banned reading text messages.

The committee unanimously endorsed the measure, but the bill would have to be passed by two other committees before reaching the floor.

Kavanagh said that track leaves him less than optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

“It will have a difficult time. Text-messaging bills have always failed to get through the Arizona Legislature,” he said.

Still, Farley said is hopeful that Arizona will ban text messaging while driving during this legislative session.

“I’m hoping this ninth time is the charm, but if it doesn’t go through this time I’ll be trying again next year,” he said.