PHOENIX — A renewed effort to ban texting and driving in Arizona amid a national movement to enact tougher distracted driving laws has run out of steam three weeks into the Arizona Legislature’s 2017 session, leaving only a watered-down version of the legislation that would affect teenage drivers.
The Republican chairman of an Arizona Senate panel where numerous bills restricting texting while driving are assigned said Tuesday he’ll only allow hearings for the proposal that would ban texting by young drivers who have just gotten their licenses.
That didn’t go over well for some who testified Tuesday before the transportation and technology committee chaired by Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa.
Tearful testimony from relatives of people killed by adult drivers called for a blanket ban on using cellphones and other electronic devices.
“The more research I do on adult distracted driving compared to teen drivers, the more disgusted I become on the ignorance that teens are the source of the problem,” said Susan Huff, whose father, retired firefighter Tom Hall, 74, was killed after his motorcycle was hit by a driver on her cellphone last year. “This proposal gives people the wrong impression – it’s not teen drivers, its adults.”
The Democratic proponent of many of this year’s proposals says Worsley’s decision not to hear more expansive bills may not be the last word.
Worsley said he won’t set hearings for any texting bills beyond the teen driver restriction floated by Republican Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott that was heard Tuesday. He said he wants the Legislature to leave broader proposals for 2018.
“And as Sen. Fann mentioned, this bill has died in this body many years in a row,” Worsley said. “And so rather than dealing with the whole issue with all drivers … let’s get this one done, let’s have the discussion, let’s start the debate.”
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said Worsley is miscalculating the support texting bans have in this year’s Legislature.
“I don’t know why he’s doing this or what the motivation is but there’s a lot of support from people in both parties,” Farley said.
Former Senate President Andy Biggs for years blocked texting bills put forward by Farley and others. He argued that distracted driving laws already apply so a new law isn’t needed.
All but four states ban texting, while Arizona only bars school bus drivers from texting.
With Biggs gone this year, Farley re-introduced several measures, including a flat-out texting ban, another forbidding the use of cellphones without hands-free devices that aims to protect roadside workers and bicyclists, and another that carries steep fines for causing accidents while texting.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, introduced his own bill banning texting, with exceptions for use of GPS and other mapping devices. He said Tuesday that he would have preferred his proposal advances but will support Fann’s proposal, which bans texting by teen drivers during their first six months with licenses.
“That’s life in the Legislature,” Kavanagh said. “He (Worsley) thinks that’s the most you can get out of this Legislature right now. He may be right.”
Farley said he believes that’s far from the case. He noted that groups will gather Wednesday at the Capitol for a distracted driving summit to pressure the Legislature to act.
He also said Fann’s bill can be amended to add much broader provisions he’s championing.
“There’s absolutely hope,” Farley said. “I don’t know why he’s doing this or what the motivation is but there’s a lot of support from people in both parties.”
Fann has been pushing for several years for a ban on teen drivers texting during their first six months on the road.
“My goal is to get this one passed and not to get in the weeds about everybody else’s bill,” she said. “The goal is to make sure they are learning how to drive safely. Concentrate on what you are doing, learn how to drive so that you can be better, safer drivers when you get your adult driver’s license.”
Fann’s bill, Senate Bill 1080, passed Worsley’s committee on a 6-1 vote and now heads to the full Senate.
This story has been corrected to show that Sen. Worsley represents Mesa, not Chandler.