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New law seeks to stop distracted teen driving

PHOENIX – Distracted driving has been a focus of law enforcement and state legislatures for years, and now they’re taking aim at trying to curb teens from distracted driving.

The Arizona State Legislature is reviewing a proposal that would make it illegal for newly-licensed teens to use a mobile device while driving, said Linda Gorman, director of communications and public affairs with Triple-A of Arizona.

“It’s being heard in the house transportation committee on Thursday,” she said. “It would strengthen the existing graduated driver’s licensing law by prohibiting teenagers who either have their permit, or during the first six months of unsupervised driving, it would prevent them from using a wireless communication device…while driving.”

The latest proposal, HB 2359, would add a new restriction to the graduated license program that would make it illegal for someone with a driving permit or with a graduated driver’s license to drive a car and be using a wireless device, such as a cell phone.

According to a study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, young drivers are three to five times more likely to be involved in a crash, or near crash, if they’re operating a car while using a cell phone, and with nearly 80 percent of 16 to 17 year olds now with cell phones, Gorman said the proposal could have a strong effect.

“Whenever you strengthen the graduated drivers licensing law and you add a component that makes it stronger, you typically see anywhere from a 7 to 11 percent additional benefit,” Gorman said. “These are not small types of benefits here, these are real lives saved.”

A similar proposal failed to pass the state Legislature last year.

The existing graduated driver’s licensing law went into effect in 2008. It sets restrictions on teens for the first six months of having a license, such as not allowing multiple passengers under 21 unless they’re family members, or allowing them to drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.

Since that law came into effect, Gorman said they have seen a 16 percent reduction in teenage driver fatalities.

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