Arizona texting while driving ban likely for teens only

Posted at 5:11 PM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-25 15:45:06-05

A renewed effort to ban texting and driving in Arizona amid a national movement to enact tougher distracted driving laws has run out of steam three weeks into the Arizona Legislature, leaving only a watered-down version of the legislation that would affect teenage drivers. 

The Republican chairman of an Arizona Senate panel where numerous bills restricting texting while driving are assigned said Tuesday he'll only allow hearings for the proposal that would ban texting by young drivers who have just gotten their driver's licenses.

RELATED: Can you pass Arizona's driving test? Take this quiz

The Democratic proponent of many of this year's proposals says that may not be the last word. 

But Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Chandler, said that he won't set hearings for any texting bills beyond the teen driver restriction floated by Republican Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott. He said he wants the Legislature to take on a small part of the issue this year, leaving broader proposals for 2018. 

"I'm just comfortable running this one and learning what the issues are, hearing testimony," Worsley said. 

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said Worsley is miscalculating the support texting bans have in this year's Legislature. 

"I don't know why he's doing this or what the motivation is but there's a lot of support from people in both parties," Farley said.

Former Senate President Andy Biggs for years blocked texting bills put forward by Farley and others. He argued that distracted driving laws already apply so a new law isn't needed.

All but four states ban texting, while Arizona only bars school bus drivers from texting.

With Biggs gone this year, Farley re-introduced several measures, including a flat-out texting ban, another forbidding the use of cellphones without hands-free devices that aims to protect roadside workers and bicyclists and another that carries steep fines for causing accidents while texting.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, introduced his own bill banning texting, with exceptions for use of GPS and other mapping devices. He said Tuesday that he would have preferred his proposal advances, but will support Fann's proposal, which bans texting by teen drivers during their first six months with licenses.

"That's life in the legislature," Kavanagh said. "He (Worsley) thinks that's the most you can get out of this Legislature right now. He may be right."

Farley said he believes that's far from the case. He noted that groups will gather Wednesday at the capitol for a distracted driving summit to pressure the Legislature to act.

He also said Fann's bill, set for a hearing Tuesday, can be amended to add much broader provisions he's championing. Fann's proposal bans texting for a teen driver during the first six months a driver is licensed.

"There's absolutely hope," Farley said. "I don't know why he's doing this or what the motivation is but there's a lot of support from people in both parties."