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House leader acquiesces to allow vote on texting-while-driving ban

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Arizona is on the verge of no longer being just one of three states without a comprehensive ban on texting while driving.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers said this morning he will allow a Senate-passed measure banning not just on texting but also on any hand-held use of electronic devices, such as a cell phone. He scheduled a vote for Thursday.

The move followed an hour-long closed caucus of House Republicans, where many of them are opposed to HB2318. Their issues range from having the state tell motorists what’s best for them to questions of whether the simple fact of using a cell phone should subject someone to a fine if there is no evidence it is affecting his or her driving.

But Bowers effectively acknowledged that many, if not most, of the 29 House Democrats favor the measure. And that is likely to provide the necessary margin for final approval even if a majority of the 31 Republicans oppose the legislation.

More than two dozen cities and counties already have adopted their own versions of a texting ban. If approved, however, a new state law would pre-empt and replace them.

That is significant as the legislation would allow people to text and make phone calls while a vehicle is stopped at a red light or railroad crossing. Many of the local laws have no such exception.

The deal struck among Republicans requires that two competing measures also get a vote.

One is similar to HB2318 but with a twist: Police could not stop someone solely for use of a cell phone and could ticket motorists only if they are pulled over for some other reason.

A second is a broader ban on “distracted driving,” which provides penalties for those who are doing things other than controlling their vehicles. Citations could be issued but only if there is some evidence those activities are affecting their ability to operate the car or truck safely.

All three could end up passing. But it’s HB2318 with its comprehensive ban that would end up being enforced against cell phone users.

Gov. Doug Ducey already has said he would sign both a texting ban like HB2318, as well as a prohibition on distracted driving.

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