Ban on driving while ‘distracted’ advances in capitol

By Jordan Williams/Arizona Sonora News Capitol Bureau

PHOENIX — Distracted driving or texting and driving? How about both? The Arizona Senate considered and passed two different measures for dealing with distracted drivers.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 1165 , which would ban texting while driving, by a bipartisan vote of 20-10

Under the bill introduced by Sen. Kate Brophy-McGee (R-28), holding a device while driving would be illegal, and violations are petty offenses punishable by fines.

Drivers would be allowed to use their device if it is mounted in the car in a way that would not hinder their view and is activating a function that takes a single swipe or tap of the operator’s finger.

Opponents of Brophy-McGee’s bill were concerned that if adopted into law, it would make holding a cell phone illegal, rather than just ban the action of texting and driving.

“I think that we’re kind of going this way on particular subjects that we are concerned about,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-06). “We are making things illegal before anyone has done anything wrong.”

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth (R-12) added that the bill was extreme in creating a “strict liability” for holding a device.  

“If we’re going to go down this path, we ought to deal with distractions in their totality, with some evidence that it is impairing driving,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth supported Senate Bill 1141, introduced by Sen. JD Mesnard (R-17), which broadly deals with distracted driving.

SB 1141, which the senate passed on a party-line vote of 16-13, explicitly bans a person from driving while distracted, that is, engaged in “any activity that is not related to the actual driving of the motor vehicle, in a manner that visibly interferes with safely driving the motor vehicle” and driving in a way that is either hazardous or prevents a person from being able to avoid a collision under the circumstances

Mesnard told the Senate that he amended the bill to specifically define distracted driving, as the introduced version his bill was met with criticism that it was too broad.

Arizona lawmakers from both sides have tried for years to ban texting and driving, but  previous attempts at this legislation have failed over the last twelve years.

For example, Democratic former Sen. Steve Farley introduced two bills in the Senate to ban texting and driving in 2017, both of which were held in their assigned committees.

Arizona Senate president Karen Fann (R-01) called SB 1165 a “uniform law” that “gives all of our motorists and everyone else the ability to know exactly what our laws are.”

Fann noted that while Arizona does not have a ban on texting and driving, 28 of the state’s municipalities have some ordinance banning the act.

For example, Tucson bans using phones while driving except for in case of emergency, which is punishable by $50 for the first violation, $100 for the second, and $200 for subsequent violations. A person is fined at least $250 if they caused an accident while texting and driving.

Both bills will now be considered in the House of Representatives.


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