Ariz. takes a baby step with texting law

Arizona, long one of the most resistant states to distracted driving laws, has adopted its first texting & driving law for the public.

Sen. Karen Fann of Arizona

State Sen. Karen Fann worked for five years to get a distracted driving law passed.

Come July 2018, teen drivers who are in the first six months of licensing will be barred from text messaging while driving.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who signed the legislation April 27, said he wished the Legislature had gone further — “banning texting while driving for all minors.”

There were, of course, the usual hopes for distracted driving laws in 2017 affecting adult drivers. But Arizona lawmakers have long fended off attempts to join the rest of the nation in reining in drivers who text, gab on handheld cell phones and surf the Internet.

State Sen. Karen Fann, author of SB 1080, the teen texting bill, reportedly had to promise uncooperative lawmakers that she would not return with further attempts to restrict drivers’ use of cell phones.

Fann’s bill, in fact, looked to be dead in the House Rules Committee due to resistance from its former chairman, who agreed with opponents who charged that it was “the camel’s nose under the tent” that could lead to broader distracted driving laws.

Fann worked for five years to get through even her modest law. Sen. Steve Farley also has has fought hard over the years for distracted driving laws, without success.

Fann’s law takes effect July 1, 2018. It comes with a secondary enforcement restriction, meaning police would need another reason, such as running a light, to stop and cite texting teenagers. Police in states with secondary enforcement limits often refer to those laws as useless. Iowa, which had secondary enforcement, just upgraded its law to primary.

Ducey’s support for distracted driving legislation seems capped. “I am skeptical of large-scale bans on texting while driving — I just don’t think they work,” the governor said in his statement on the bill signing. He said Fann’s plan was “different,” however. “If we can use the early years of (teens’) driving experience as an opportunity to guide them toward safe and responsible habits, that’s a good thing.”

Senate Bill 1080 applies to teenagers within the first 6 months of licensed driving, or until they reach age 18. It also applies to teens driving under a learner’s permit.

The chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee appears to have killed chances for a broad texting & driving law in Arizona. Sen. Bob Worsley would only hear the plan to outlaw texting by young drivers.

Hopes had been relatively high for a texting & driving ban with the departure of longtime distracted driving law foe Andy Biggs, the Senate’s president, but now Worsely seems to be stepping into that resistant void; the Republican says the state lawmakers aren’t ready for a full ban.

Arizona is one of a handful of states without a texting law. There are at least five distracted driving proposals remaining before lawmakers. The state does limit use of wireless communications devices by school bus drivers.

AAA Arizona called enactment of the new law “a historic step by the governor,” citing “a decade-long effort by AAA to help reduce distracted driving by teenagers in Arizona.”

> Read more about the history of distracted driving legislation in Arizona.

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