PHOENIX - Arizona drivers' right to compose and send text messages from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle has successfully been defended.
On a tie vote, the Senate on Tuesday killed a proposal that would have made it illegal to compose, send or read text messages while driving. The defeat came despite the legislation's being diluted to ensure that drivers who park by the side of the road to send texts could not be penalized.
This is the second year Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, has been unable to get the measure enacted. And this year, unlike last, he had the backing of every major cell-phone provider in the state.
What he didn't have Tuesday was the votes.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said he doesn't question that someone who is texting may not be paying full attention to the road. But he said there already are laws that make it illegal for motorists to fail to control their vehicles.
Gould also questioned why this specific form of distraction was being singled out for prohibition when so many other things can be equally dangerous.
One, he said, involves drinking a soda - and not using a straw.
"You're driving down the road, you're trying to get that last ice cube out of the bottom of the cup and it's blocking both your eyes," he said.
"Clearly dangerous," Gould continued. "We don't have special legislation to outlaw Big Gulps."
That's not all.
"You see people driving down the road, trying not to get the hamburger on their shirt," Gould said.
But Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, said texting is different.
"It's not even like you had a cell phone where you can be talking and still looking up," she said.
"When you are texting, you're looking down," Leff continued. "You are not looking at that road. And there's no way that I can believe that anybody would think this is safe to be texting while you're actively driving your car."
Melvin's legislation, modeled on a similar Phoenix ordinance, would have subjected violators to a $50 penalty. That fine would have risen to $200 if the motorist were involved in an accident.
The senator said he will ask for reconsideration, noting seven lawmakers were absent - eight if one counts the vacant seat that is to be filled by Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, who was named Tuesday by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to fill the post vacated by Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson.