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Proposed bills would ban texting while driving

Elizabeth Medora~ 2/18/2015

NORTH VALLEY – You’re cruising on the freeway when your cell phone chirps with a text. Glancing at your phone, you know the text is from someone you’ve been waiting anxiously to hear from. What do you do?

“It’s so hard to resist that temptation,” said Representative Victoria Steele, who has authored a bill banning texting and driving and is also sponsoring a bill banning it. Under the provisions of Steele’s bill, HB 2370, texting while driving would be prohibited.

HB 2370 is similar to another bill that has advanced through the Senate, SB 1102. Senator Steve Farley, Senator Katie Hobbs, and Representative Steele are sponsoring SB 1102.

“It’s time for us to have a law,” said Farley, who said he has been trying to get a bill banning texting while driving passed for nine sessions in a row.

“I have heard from so many different people who have lost loved ones,” Farley continued. Farley described texting while driving as “just as bad as drunk driving, and we should treat it as such.”

Banning texting while driving isn’t a new idea – it’s been done around the country. However, the legislation can prove difficult to enforce. Steele and Farley both emphasized that DPS officers can often tell when a driver is texting. Farley said he has encouraged the state department of public safety to enforce the ‘reasonable and prudent’ speed law even without a ban on texting because “no speed is safe if you’re texting.”

Farley said a court order would be necessary to examine drivers’ phones.

“A police officer can’t take your phone and look it up,” Farley noted.

Steele noted that the ban could be “difficult to enforce,” but she referred to it as a “matter of public safety.”

“If we are told that it’s against the law to do this, that will help,” Steele asserted.

Both proposed bills would treat texting while driving as a civil violation. Under the provisions of Farley’s bill, a first-time offender would be subject to a $100 civil penalty. If the texting driver was involved in an accident, the penalty would be $500; if the accident resulted in the death of someone else, the penalty would be $10,000. Under the provisions of Steele’s bill, a texting driver would be fined $50; if in an accident, the penalty would be $200.

Farley and Steele’s bills differ in one major area.

Farley described SB 1102 as prohibiting, “Anything you do that involves sending and writing a message.”

Steele’s bill goes a step further, also prohibiting reading messages. Farley’s bill originally included a ban on reading as well as sending messages, and he is trying to get that section added back into the bill.

Farley and Steele both referenced the recent death of DPS officer Tim Huffman, whose patrol car was hit by a semi driven by a distracted driver.

“It has become a huge issue,” Steele noted. “I believe we in the state legislature have a responsibility to look at it.”

Farley encouraged Arizona residents to contact their legislators to share their feelings on the proposed ban.

Steele reiterated the dangers of distracted driving: “If you take your hands, eyes, attention off the road – you’re driving blind while you’re aiming a two-ton vehicle down the street.”

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