Arizona now bans teens from texting or otherwise using their cellphones during the first six months they have a license or while they have a learners permit.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation Thursday, saying in a letter that while he doesn't believe blanket bans on drivers using cellphones are effective, he would go further and ban texting for all minors.
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"The state already regulates a number of things when it comes to early driving by teens. And for good reason," Ducey wrote. "For our youth, these laws can act as a teacher."
The legislation marks the first time in years the Legislature has approved a bill addressing cellphone use and distracted driving. Many Republican lawmakers contend distracted driving is already covered by existing laws and passing even a small cellphone ban will lead to broader efforts to ban phone use behind the wheel.
Arizona is one of just four states without blanket bans on texting while driving. Arizona only bars school bus drivers from texting.
The measure by Republican Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott is small compared with the full ban sought by some lawmakers that has repeatedly failed to get a hearing over the years, including this session.
There was opposition to even Fann's incremental proposal, and it was held in the House for weeks before Speaker J.D. Mesnard revived the legislation last week.
"It's the camel's nose. It's incrementalism at its finest," Republican Rep. Kelly Townsend said before the House approved the measure on a 32-24 vote. "You start with this, and next thing you know, it's a full ban, and I'm not for that. I'm not going to start this step forward."
Fann said she disagrees with those who think a small ban will grow and said she has no intention of pushing for any broader cellphone ban but can't say others won't.
"My goal is concentrating on the young kids, my goal is to make sure that they learn how to be safe drivers before they get into an accident and hurt themselves or somebody else," Fann said. "All we're doing is adding this one thing that says pay attention, learn how to drive before you start thinking about doing anything else."
Democratic Sen. Steve Farley has pushed a statewide texting ban for a decade. He said Ducey's action is "way too little and not enough to be able to solve anything."
He pointed to a Texas law that bans those under 18 from texting and noted that it hasn't stopped fatal accidents blamed on texting.
"They just had about a month ago a 20-year-old texting driver run into and slaughter 13 church elders in one crash," Farley said. Witnesses to the March 29 crash where a pickup crashed into a small church bus said the driver acknowledged he had been texting prior to the accident.
U.S. Department of Transportation research says 46 states and Washington, D.C., ban text messaging, while 14 states and the district bar the use of cellphones without hands-free devices.