It looks like Arizona roads are about to become a lot safer, thanks to Senate Bill 1080. On April 20, the Arizona state House gave final approval to legislation banning teens with a learner’s driving permit from texting or making calls from their cell phones behind the wheel. Passing with a 32-24 margin, SB1080 also extends that restriction to the first six months the driver has their actual Class G license, which is reserved for new drivers.
This bill was first introduced to the state senate on January 17, 2017, and just earlier this month, many had doubts that the bill would pass. Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who chairs the House Rules Committee, expressed on April 6 that he would refuse to give a hearing to the Senate-passed bill. The Senate had previously approved the bill on a 24-6 margin.
While Lovas claimed that he personally was for the bill, he heard enough concerns from other members to take a bold stance. According to Lovas, once Arizona enacts its first-ever restrictions, no matter how minimal, it potentially becomes easier to expand the law so that more people, not just new drivers, are barred from driving while texting.
This type of thinking is how the term “nanny state” was coined. This describes a situation where the state begins telling people what’s best for them. Those arguments have proven successful in the past, even resulting in lawmakers voting in 1976 to repeal laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.
As it currently stands, Arizona and Montana are the only two states that do not have any restrictions on cell phone use behind the wheel of a vehicle. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers, and 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.
Unlike laws in other states, SB1080 would make cell phone use and driving for new drivers a secondary offense, meaning the driver could only be issued a ticket for it if they had been pulled over for some other reason, such as speeding.
Despite his threat to squash the bill before it reached the state house floor, it was indeed presented and passed, thanks in a large part to Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who shepherded SB1080 through the Senate. She expressed that the Rules Committee, unlike other panels, is not supposed to debate the policy merits of a measure. Instead, the only issue for that committee to decide is whether a measure is constitutional and in proper form for consideration by the full House, and SB1080 was approved in both areas.
Now, the bill just needs one remaining signature to become law—Governor Doug Ducey’s. Ducey, who has three sons, two of whom are of driving age, finds this to be a personal bill to him.
That, partnered with the sad statistic that 11 teens die nationally every day while texting and driving, pushes many to believe that Ducey will sign the bill without any hesitation.
While a AAA study found that 94 percent of teen drivers recognize the danger of texting and driving, 35 percent admit to doing it anyways. This gives merit to the importance of the bill and getting it passed.
Ducey is expected to make a decision shortly, so be sure to follow the story for more updates in the coming days.