Arizona House sends proposal banning use of cellphones by drivers to Gov. Ducey

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- Arizona is set to become one of the last states to ban texting while driving after a bill passed the Arizona House, but the state's action could take it a step further, almost entirely taking the phone out of your hand.

Many say the death of Salt River Police officer Clayton Townsend earlier this year by a distracted driver gave the legislature momentum to pass this bill. The focus was on texting while driving, but it aims to stop the use of hand-held cellphone use behind the wheel.

"It was a joyous day and a long time coming," said Townsend's mother, Toni.

The emotion for the Townsend family was almost overwhelming.

Toni and other family members were in attendance when a texting while driving ban passed the Arizona House. The next stop: the governor's desk.

"This bill can't bring Clayton back, there's nothing that can bring Clayton back, but as a family, it'll help our hearts begin to heal," she said.

The bill this year may have been unfortunately born after the tragic death of Officer Townsend. He was killed by a driver allegedly texting and driving. But it's an issue that the legislature has been struggling with for years. Arizona would be the 48th state to ban texting while driving.

"Right now, you can drive out of Yavapai County and into another county and the law's different, so we want a uniform approach to it," said Rep. Noel Campbell, the bill's sponsor.

Rep. Cesar Chavez added, "Now it's unfortunate that we're one of three of the last states to put this into law, but there's never a late moment in which we have to pass good legislation to protect people of Arizona."

Rep. Chavez also said it's the government's job to protect the people of the state, and this bill is doing just that.

The hope for family members and lawmakers who supported the ban: safer Arizona roadways for all drivers.

"If people's lives can be saved from it, it's long overdue. This is a legacy for Clayton," said Toni.

Representative Noel Campbell sponsored the legislation.

"I've texted, it just happens," Rep. Campbell said. "But now, I think twice about it. I really consider what I'm doing. I pull off now and get on the phone. It's changed my behavior and I'm hoping it'll change others behavior, too."

The statewide ban has support from the Tempe Police Department, who already had their own citywide ban.

"I hope that citizens can see, 1. How dangerous distracted driving is and 2. Whatever you're trying to do, it can wait," said Sgt. Ronald Elcock with the Tempe PD. "That message can wait."

Toni Townsend went on to say that this is a great victory for Arizona, and Clayton would be proud of the direction this bill is going in.

The bill passed 44 to 16. Another distracted driving bill also passed, but heads towards the Senate and is meant to cover broader situations, like eating, or reading, or other outrageous behavior.

The governor is expected to sign the bill, meaning warnings from police won't go into effect immediately - tickets won't be issued until 2021.

Statement from bill sponsor Sen. Kate Brophy McGee:

"This is a great day for the people of our state. We have a public health crisis, and this law will go a long way to solving it. We must get drivers' eyes back on the road and their hands back on the steering wheel instead of their phone."

Statement from Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp:

"This isn't about writing a lot of tickets. This is about saving lives. It's a quality of life issue. People should be able to run their errands without the fear of someone running into them because they have a phone in their hand."

Statement from AAA:

"Today marks a tremendous milestone for traffic safety in Arizona. On behalf of more than 900,000 Members across the state, AAA Arizona would like to thank Senate President Karen Fann, Senator Kate Brophy McGee, Speaker Rusty Bowers, Rep. Noel Campbell and the bipartisan support of legislators who supported HB 2318. Earlier this year, a poll commissioned by AAA Arizona and the Arizona Property Casualty Insurance Association revealed 83 percent of Arizona voters support this legislation. We are encouraged by Governor Ducey's previous public statements in support of hands-free legislation and as a result, we are optimistic that he will sign this life-saving bill into law."

House Bill 2318:
Texting while driving; prohibition; enforcement

Senate Bill 1141:
Distracted driving