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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoes distracted-driving bill

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing into law a distracted driving bill at a ceremony at the Arizona Capitol Monday, April 22, 2019, in Phoenix. Arizona becomes the 48th state to ban texting and the 18th to ban any hand-held phone use while driving. Officers can begin issuing warnings immediately and can write tickets in 2021. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday vetoed legislation that would have toughened the state’s distracted driving law, just days after signing a new law banning handheld cellphone use.

Ducey said in a veto letter that both measures were well intentioned but he’s concerned the measure he vetoed doesn’t give drivers clear direction about what activities are prohibited or how the law would be enforced.

“The hands-free mobile device policy is narrowly tailored to a specific behavior – using our mobile devices while driving,” Ducey said in the letter. “Data show that prohibiting this behavior saves lives.”

The distracted driving bill by Sen. J.D. Mesnard would have specified that any act that causes unsafe driving such as swerving is illegal, whether it’s using a cellphone or eating a hamburger. It was introduced as an alternative to handheld cellphone ban and was preferred by some Republican lawmakers concerned the cellphone ban went too far in regulating drivers’ behavior. Lawmakers sent both to Ducey, with the total cellphone ban receiving overwhelming support and the distracted driving law barely passing.

Mesnard was “steamed” at the governor’s veto, saying his fellow Republican had expressed support for the measure earlier this year.

“I’m obviously beyond disappointed because now it means we remain without a distracted driving law,” Mesnard said. “I would have preferred the courtesy of a heads-up if he was going to change his mind on the bill.”

Ducey said he’s open to future legislation that addresses distracted driving.

The signing of the hands-free cellphone law came after a decade of failed efforts to persuade the Legislature to ban driving with a hand-held phone. The death of a police officer hit by a distracted driver in January added to heartbreaking stories from others who lost loved ones in car crashes linked to cellphone use and kick-started this year’s efforts. A wave of restrictions enacted by local governments across the state also helped convince lawmakers the time was ripe for change.

Under the measure Ducey signed, officers can issue warnings immediately to drivers holding their phones but can’t write citations until January 2021. The more than two Arizona dozen cities, towns and counties with their own restrictions on phone use can continue to enforce their laws in the meantime and others are free to adopt laws no tougher than the new state measure. After 2021, only the state law can be enforced.

Lawmakers hope the delay in issuing fines statewide will give people time to learn about the new law before they’re subjected to fines ranging from $75 to $250.

The Arizona law leaves Montana and Missouri as the only states that do not ban texting for anyone driving, though Missouri does for drivers 21 and younger. Arizona joined 16 others that ban all handheld cellphone use while driving.

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