Arizona Republic: Arizona’s tough statewide ban on driver cellphone use is close to becoming law. Here are 5 things to know

Safer roads can save lives. Every year, my colleagues and I are approached by grieving families who have been impacted by distracted driving. Let’s pass SB1165 to protect these Arizonans.

The days of drivers in Arizona holding a cellphone as they text or talk may be coming to an end.

The Arizona Senate on Monday voted to pass a bill that would enact a statewide ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving.

The proposal now needs to be approved by the House. There are mirror bills running through the Legislature, Senate Bill 1165 and House Bill2318.

State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who is sponsoring the proposal, said she believes it will have the support it needs there to get to the governor’s desk.

Brophy McGee said that Governor Doug Ducey has indicated he will sign it once it does. The Governor’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment.

“We are as close as we have ever been,” Brophy McGee said. “Phew.”

Brophy McGee and others say the proposal will make the roads safer. Supporters have been pushing for a statewide ban for more than a decade.

The aim is to prevent crashes such as the one that killed Salt River tribal police Officer Clayton Townsend in January.

Here are five things to know about the proposal:

1. No holding a cellphone, talking, texting or reading

The law would specifically prohibit drivers from any kind of cellphone use while driving — including to talk, text, type or browse social media sites — unless they are using the device in a hands-free mode.

Drivers wouldn’t be able to hold a cellphone at all, or even prop it on their shoulder.

The law applies not just to cellphones but to any kind of portable wireless communication device or stand-alone electronic device would be banned.

Using a GPS system would be OK.

Using a hand-held cellphone while stopped at a traffic light would not.

Watching any kind of recording, video, movie or TV, or recording video, would also not be allowed.

There are certain exceptions for officials who respond to emergencies, people who are witnessing a crime or in need of emergency help, and certain radio operators.

2. Warnings would start immediately, tickets in 2021

Under the version the senate passed Monday, police officers could start issuing warnings to drivers immediately after the governor signs the bill.

Officers wouldn’t be able to ticket drivers for breaking the law until Jan. 1, 2021.

There’s an emergency clause in that bill version that allows for the warnings to be issued immediately. Passing an emergency clause takes more votes, and if the House doesn’t have them then it will be 90 days after the close of session before the warnings start.

3. Fines would be $75+

If you are committing a traffic violation while distracted from driving, the Department of Public Safety is on the lookout for you. (Photo: Getty Images)

Officers who see drivers using their phones could cite them.

As written now, the law would be a primary offense, which means that police could pull over drivers for this reason alone. 

The first time, the driver would get a fine of between $75 and $149. The second time and every time after that, the fine would be between $150 and $250.

4. City laws would stay put until state law takes over

Many cities in Arizona already ban cellphone use while driving in some form.

In the Phoenix area:

  • El Mirage – prohibits handheld-cellphone use while driving.

  • Fountain Hills – prohibits texting while driving.

  • Glendale – prohibits handheld-cellphone use while driving.

  • Phoenix – prohibits texting while driving

  • Surprise – prohibits handheld-cellphone use while driving

  • Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community – prohibits texting while driving.

  • Tempe – prohibits handheld-cellphone use while driving

In the cities that already ban hand-held cellphone use while driving, those laws would stay in effect until the state law replaces them on Jan. 1, 2021.

In the cities that don’t, those cities could still enact laws that go into effect earlier than the new state law.

5. Arizona one of the last states to address issue

Arizona lawmakers have proposed related laws for more than a decade.

There’s already a distracted driving law that’s not specific to cellphone use, and texting while driving is prohibited for new, teen drivers, but there’s no overall hand-held cellphone ban for all drivers.

At this point, Arizona is one of just three states without a texting ban for all drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen states have a blanket ban on handheld-cellphone use while driving.

There are other bills moving through the state Legislature this year that would take a different approach than Brophy McGee’s bill, such as banning just texting while driving or banning all forms of distracted driving.

Brophy McGee said it’s amazing her bill has made it as far as it has.

She said she “didn’t want to jinx it,” but, as of last count, supporters had the votes they needed to get it to the governor.