Put down the phone: Arizona bans cellphone use while driving

PHOENIX – Arizona this week became the 48th state to ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones behind the wheel.

The law states that in a moving car, the driver is not allowed to operate a cellphone, including to write, send or read any text-based communication. Drivers also aren’t allowed to hold or support a mobile device with any part of their body.

The law should save lives, according to statistics on the governor’s website, which shows that states that have hands-free laws experienced 16% fewer fatalities in traffic incidents. The website also states that drivers who text and drive are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.

Gov. Doug Ducey was joined by the families and victims of distracted drivers Monday as he signed House Bill 2318 at the Capitol.

“If we are honest, many of us have found ourselves distracted by a cellphone at one time or another. In the fortunate cases, it ends in a close call, a courtesy honk or maybe a fender bender,” Ducey said. “But we know that that’s not always the result. And for far too many families, this situation leads to a much more tragic ending.”

So why did it take so long for Arizona lawmakers to pass a bill that would eliminate such risks?

“We had people in positions of authority that didn’t like the concept, didn’t like the idea and didn’t think that was needed,” Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said Friday.

“I don’t think it (drivers’ use of hand-held devices) was the same problem 10 years ago that it is today,” she said, adding that people are more reliant on their phones. Brophy McGee had introduced a different distracted-driving bill in the Senate in January.

Although a hands-free Arizona has been discussed for decades, the majority of legislators on both sides jumped on board swiftly following the death of Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend, who was killed by a distracted driver during a traffic stop in January.

A poll in February showed that more than 80% of both Republicans and Democrats supported a statewide cellphone ban.

Law enforcement will now be issuing warnings to drivers caught violating the bill until January 2021, when the law goes into full effect.

Drivers can be fined up to $149 for a first offense and at least $150, but no more than $250, for each subsequent offense.

Drivers who use their phones in hands-free mode orto “summon emergency help” will not be ticketed, according to the Legislature’s website.

– Video by Gabriella Bachara/Cronkite News