Teen drivers face cellphone ban under Senate bill

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PHOENIX (AP) — State lawmakers are coming after teen drivers' cellphones.

A bill approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety on Wednesday seeks to prohibit teenagers from using wireless devices while they have their learner's permit and during the first six months of their license, except for in emergencies.

The bill advanced in a 3-1 vote would allow police officers to stop violators under age 18 if they are also suspected of committing another traffic offense, such as speeding. Teenage drivers could face penalties of up to $100 and a 30-day license suspension.

Supporters claim the ban would protect the state's youngest and most inexperienced drivers.

Republican Sen. Don Shooter, of Yuma, said he often has to swerve to avoid texting drivers on the road.

"As much as I am against the intrusion, maybe the trade-off may be worth it to try to keep these kids from hurting themselves or hurting other people," he said.

Republican Sen. Gail Griffin, of Hereford, opposed the measure, citing other legal distractions, including music, food and makeup.

Nearly 3,100 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2010, while another 416,000 were injured, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found. More than 100,000 crashes per year are linked to drivers reading or sending text messages, according to the National Safety Council.

"Parents appreciate this type of bill because it gives them cover so to speak," said Linda Gorman, an Arizona-based spokeswoman for the automobile group AAA. "They don't necessarily want their teen driving and talking on the phone."

In 2008, Arizona enacted the Teenage Driver Safety Act. The law mandates curfew and passenger restrictions on teen drivers for the first six months after receiving their license. Teens with graduated driver's licenses cannot get behind the wheel between midnight and 5 a.m.

Lawmakers tried to pass a similar cellphone ban for teen drivers in 2012.

The District of Columbia and 10 states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia — have banned handheld phone use by all drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva .

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