After more than a decade of attempts, Arizona may finally join the other 47 states that have made texting while driving illegal.
Arizona lawmakers are making an effort again by introducing Senate Bill 1261, which has been approved by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Technology. The bill must be passed by the Rules Committee before going to the Senate.
The bill would impose a fine of up to $99 for a first offense and between $100 and $200 for the following offense. And if texting while driving causes either serious injury or death of another person, the defendant would be fined up to $4,000 with a class 2 misdemeanor.
As of right now, Arizona, Missouri, and Montana are the only states that have yet to pass a statewide ban on texting while driving. Montana has absolutely no laws on driving while texting and Missouri’s law on texting while driving only addressed drivers under the age of 21. This is despite the fact that distracted driving caused 3,477 deaths in 2015 alone.
The vote on the new bill came after hearing more than an hour and a half of tearful pleas from Arizona residents who have lost loved ones because of distracted driving.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who sponsored the bill, has been trying to get some sort of restriction on texting while driving for several years now. This time around, he has agreed to language in the bill saying that a citation may be issued only if the texting is witnessed by a police officer.
Furthermore, the legislation states that a conviction for this type of offense could not be used by the Motor Vehicle Division to take away someone’s driver’s license or be used as a contributing factor to increases in insurance premiums.
Lawmakers fear the true challenge will arise when the bill makes it to the House, where these lawmakers have repeatedly taken a harder stand against what some see as “nanny state’ regulations.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, who chairs the Senate panel that approved the bill, disagrees with this logic.
“Sometimes it just seems like our political ideology gets in the way of common sense,’’ he said, adding that lawmakers, in discussing this issue, “have had a hard time … to see through a common-sense lens.’’ And Worsley had a message for the parade of people who testified, some holding pictures of loved ones who were killed by distracted drivers. “I’m sorry it’s taken so long,’’ he said.
With 5.4 million non-fatal car accidents occurring in the U.S. each year, more states are beginning to crack down on all forms of distracted driving.
Farley believes, and sincerely hopes, this time the bill will be passed. He explained that if there was widespread support for the bill, he would then consider making the penalties harsher.
Currently, the only bill in Arizona regarding texting while driving is one that bans texting while driving for beginning drivers. But both lawmakers and the public are hoping this bill outlaws in across the state.