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Teen-driver cell phone ban moves forward in Senate

A panel of lawmakers today unanimously approved legislation to prohibit teenagers from using mobile phones while driving.

The prohibition applies to minors who have been granted an instruction permit or a limited driver license.

The idea is to avoid distraction for teenagers during their most vulnerable period — when they’re still inexperienced drivers.

The insurer firm AAA Arizona, which is backing the measure, said cell phone use coupled with driving inexperience can be a “deadly combination.”

The bill bans cell phone use except in the case of an emergency and when stopping the vehicle would be dangerous.

The measure is the latest attempt to ban cell phone use while operating a vehicle, which many lawmakers have said is dangerous and irresponsible.

Previous attempts and different versions of banning the social practice have failed, including last session’s proposal to outlaw texting while driving.

The current bill, SB1056, which is being pushed by Republicans from the House and Senate, prohibits cell phone use for any reason — meaning texting or calling or surfing the Internet — by teenagers who hold an instruction permit, which are issued to kids who are at least 15 and half years old.

The prohibition extends to those who have an obtained a Class G driver license, which is issued to minors who are at least 16 years old and who have passed other requirements. For this group, the ban lasts for the first six months of getting a Class G license.

The restriction ceases when the person turns 18.

Also, the bill classifies the violation as a secondary offense, which means an officer can’t stop the driver or issue a citation unless there’s a reason to believe another traffic violation has occurred.

Under the bill, violators face at least a $75-fine as well as an extension of the restrictions that come with a limited license.

The obvious challenge for advocates isn’t to convince the Legislature and the governor that using cell phones while driving by teenagers is dangerous. Many policymakers agree that texting while driving, for example, is irresponsible.

The challenge is to show that the prohibition can be effectively enforced.

“The enforcement — sure, that’s a little difficult,” Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, the bill’s main sponsor, told members of the Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee, which gave the bill a green light. “(But) to me, the most important enforcement is this gives the parents a tool when they’re talking to their brand-new drivers to say, ‘Look here. It says in the law that for your first six months, you’re still learning how to drive. Don’t use your cellphones.’”

The proposal’s next stop is the Senate floor for debate and a full vote. But first, the measure must receive the go-ahead from the Senate Rules Committee and the nod of the majority and minority caucuses.

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