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