Multiple measures in Arizona seek to curb distracted driving

| 2/8/2007

Three Arizona state lawmakers are pursuing legislation that targets people who distract themselves while driving by engaging in other activities while behind the wheel.

Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, has introduced a bill that would require most drivers to keep their hands off the phone. Drivers would be prohibited from using hand-held cell phones. Talking on a phone equipped with a "hands-free" accessory would still be permitted.

A separate effort offered by Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, focusing on people who send or read text messages while driving.

Both bills exempt attempts to contact emergency personnel. They also exclude commercial driver's license holders as long as the devices are being used "while driving within the scope of their employment."

In both instances, violators would receive warnings - not tickets - until Jan. 31, 2008. After that, they would face $50 fines. Anyone who causes a crash would face fines up to $200.

While Farley believes "texting" while driving is a safety hazard, he conceded to the Arizona Daily Star he has no hard facts and figures to prove his point.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California is slated to implement its own rule.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

In fact, research by the University of North Carolina determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.

Another bill would forbid drivers from watching television while behind the wheel.

Sponsored by Rep. John Nelson, R-Glendale, the bill would prohibit drivers from watching any device capable of displaying live or recorded television, cable or satellite broadcasts, DVDs or video games that is located within the driver's view if it's located in front of the back of the driver's seat or is visible to the driver - regardless of whether the device interferes with safe driving.

Prezelski's bill - HB2109, Farley's bill - HB2129 - and Nelson's bill - HB2265 - are in committees.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor