PHOENIX - State lawmakers are sending a message to new teen drivers: Put down the phone.
On a 3-1 vote Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Public Safety approved a measure to prohibit cellphone use by anyone younger than 18 who is driving on a learner's permit or for the first six months after getting a license.
The ban would cover both texting and talking.
Stuart Goodman, lobbyist for AAA Arizona, told lawmakers statistics support the move. He said that from 1982 to 2007, alcohol-related fatalities for teens dropped, but the "overall number of fatalities have stayed the same."
He said "distracted driving has now replaced alcohol-related accidents or fatalities as one of the leading causes of young deaths behind the wheel."
Special restrictions on young new motorists is not new. Existing law generally precludes them from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., though there are exceptions, like driving to school or work, or if a parent or guardian who has a driver's license is present.
And anyone licensed for less than six months cannot have more than one other person younger than 18 in the vehicle. Siblings are excepted, as are situations with a parent in the vehicle.
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who has attempted to get similar restrictions for five years, said he wrote SB 1241 to be as narrow in scope as possible.
One provision prohibits police from stopping a teen solely because of cellphone use. Citations can be issued only if the driver was pulled over for some other reason.
A first-time violation carries a maximum fine of $75, though it also would extend the restrictions that now expire after six months for another 30 days. Repeat offenses, though, would mean bigger fines and longer restrictions.
But the proposal was too much for Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Sierra Vista.
She said lawmakers should not single out cellphone use for special regulations for anyone.
"There's a lot of distractions in teenagers as well as adults," Griffin said. "And unless we address other things like music and food and makeup and other things, I cannot support this bill."
But Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said that ignores what is happening on Arizona roads.
"I've had to swerve or move - I haven't been hit yet - dozens of times by people on cellphones and doing this and that," he said.
"So, as much as I'm against the intrusion, I think the trade-off may be worth it to try to keep these kids from hurting themselves or other people," he said.
The legislation also needs approval from the Transportation Committee before going to the full Senate.