New drivers' texting-while-driving target of House bill

2014-03-03T15:00:00Z 2014-03-03T23:49:56Z New drivers' texting-while-driving target of House billBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — New drivers could lose their ability to operate a vehicle while chatting with or sending a message to their friends.

But it won’t happen right away. And the chances of a teen actually getting cited may be slim.

Without dissent, the state House on Monday gave preliminary approval to legislation to make it illegal for anyone who has been driving for less than six months to operate a “wireless communication device.” Violators who are ticketed and found guilty would get a citation.

HB 2359 represents the latest bid by those seeking to restrain the increasing trend of motorists to be talking on the phone to friends or trying to tap out a message with their thumbs while holding on to the steering wheel.

Numerous efforts to outlaw the practice outright have been defeated amid concerns about the state getting into areas where it does not belong.

Foes have pointed out that there already are laws against “distracted driving.” And they have questioned whether talking or texting is any more dangerous than eating a hamburger or putting on makeup.

But there seems to be a willingness to put some limits on the newest drivers.

Even with that, Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, put some curbs in her legislation.

First is that the bill, which goes to the Senate after a final roll-call vote, would not be effective until July 1, 2015.

Potentially more significant, the legislation would bar a police officer from stopping a young motorist simply because the driver is observed chatting on the phone or texting. Instead, it spells out that a citation can be issued only if the police officer “has reasonable cause to believe there is another alleged violation of a motor vehicle law of the state.”

There is a precedent for that type of “secondary enforcement.” Police cannot stop motorists for not wearing a seat belt but can issue a citation only if the person is pulled over for some other reason.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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