Arizona Senate Debates Ban on Texting While Driving

May 29, 2008

Arizona legislators are debating whether to ban texting while driving. Supporters say it would “send a message” about safety while critics call it overkill when other distractions such as eating and changing the radio aren’t prohibited.

The proposal would subject violators to a $100 fine if they’re not involved in an accident, and a $250 fine if they are.

“We have an opportunity to do the right thing for public safety in Arizona,” said Sen. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma.

However, the Senate did not complete preliminary action on the measure, which was offered as an amendment to a transportation rules bill. It was modeled on a bill that was introduced in the House but never considered there.

The proposal championed by Democrats was debated extensively by the Republican-led Senate before taking a six-hour break so GOP senators could attend a fundraiser for John McCain’s presidential campaign,

Before the recess, votes against motions offered by critics made it appear likely the Senate would give the ban preliminary approval.

However, most senators — including several GOP senators who led opposition to the ban — did not return for an evening floor session to continue work on the bill. The Senate was forced to adjourn, and that could spell trouble for proponents if Senate leaders don’t reschedule the measure for further consideration.

Sen. Charlene Pesquiera, an Oro Valley Democrat who offered the texting ban amendment, cited fatal accidents in Arizona and New York in which police have listed texting by drivers as possible factors.

“We are here to send the message to our community that texting while driving is dangerous,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson.

Washington and New Jersey have enacted laws banning texting by drivers. Other states impose restrictions only on teen drivers.

Opponents said the proposed Arizona ban is unnecessary because police can already enforce a law against reckless driving and that the proposed texting ban ignores numerous other behaviors that also distract drivers.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, offered an amendment that would have replaced the texting ban with an expansion of the existing law against reckless driving, with texting among 13 activities that would constitute reckless.

The other 12 activities included changing the radio station, talking to passengers, eating, drinking, applying cosmetics, shaving, smoking, reading and “looking away from the road for any reason.”

“I’m not going to water down the reckless driving statutes with some feel-good legislation for texting,” Gould said.

The Senate rejected Gould’s proposal, with Pesquiera arguing that texting is more dangerous than other activities because it’s more of a distraction.

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