Arizona bill limits drivers' cell phone use

| 2/2/2005

An Arizona state lawmaker is pursuing legislation that would add the state to the list of states that require drivers to keep their hands off the phone.

Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, has introduced legislation that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

Under the bill – HB2159 – a driver stopped for using a hand-held phone could be fined up to $200. It would exempt emergency calls.

Prezelski said he doesn’t think it will get a hearing in the Legislature because similar efforts have failed in the past, but he is hopeful it will evoke public interest.

“We go after people who drive drunk, but we don’t go after people who drive stupid,” he told The State Press.

Currently, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. Several states, however, are expected to address the issue in the coming months.

But with cell-phone related incidents making up only a small percentage of motor vehicle accidents, even government officials wonder why this particular behavior was chosen for a law, since studies have shown that hands-free and hand-held cell phones are equally distracting.

“We’ve evaluated and come to the conclusion that hands-free use is just as risky or perhaps riskier than hand-held phones because it’s the cognitive distraction that can compromise driving” Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told The New York Times.

Tyson said research within his agency and outside, along with driving simulations, found that it was the talking on a cell phone while driving – not holding it – that was distracting, and that therefore cell phones should be used only in emergencies.

Prezelski’s bill has been sent to the House Judiciary, Transportation and Rules committees.