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Texting ban fails in Senate debate

Another attempt to ban texting while driving faltered during a Senate debate on March 2.

Senators were split on the issue – literally.

S1334 failed to clear the bar during the Committee of the Whole session by a roll call vote of 11-11. Lawmakers crossed party lines to either vote for it or against it.

But its sponsor vowed to revive the measure.

Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican from Tucson, hopes to bring reinforcement when he brings the bill back to the floor.

“Frankly, Senator Carolyn Allen, she was up in her office when we were voting. She told me if she had known, she would be down here and it would have passed,” Melvin said.

Allen was among seven senators who were not present during the debate.

This is Melvin’s second attempt in two years to ban texting while driving.

Critics of the bill said it’s unnecessary and unenforceable.

Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu City, said many other things can distract a driver and are just as dangerous as texting, such as eating.

But Gould said these activities, including texting while driving, which he agreed to be reckless and dangerous, can already be cited under the state’s reckless driving statute.

The bill is also unenforceable, he said.

“If the operator of the vehicle said I wasn’t texting. I was dialing a phone number. What happens then? If the police officer asks for your phone, he is violating your Fourth Amendment right. It is an illegal search,” he said.

But the bill’s supporters said it’s meant to save lives.

Sen. Barbara Leff, a Republican from Paradise Valley, said, “I cannot see how you can ever be safe to be texting while you are operating a motor vehicle. When you are texting you are looking down. Your eyes are not on the road.”

The bill would prohibit using cell phones or other technical devices to write, send or read a written message. The measure does not apply to drivers of emergency vehicles or to law enforcers.

The bill also does not apply to making or receiving calls.

Violators face a $50-fine, and if the driver commits the violation and is involved in an accident, then the civil penalty increases to $200.

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