Gov. Ducey signs bill banning texting, driving in Arizona

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PHOENIX (FOX 10/AP) -- Arizona ended a decade of resistance to restrictions on using a cellphone while driving when Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law outlawing holding a phone behind the wheel. It is now the 48th state to ban texting and the 18th to ban hand-held phone use while driving.

It was an emotional signing at the Arizona State Capitol on Monday as Governor Doug Ducey was surrounded by family members and victims of distracted driving.

This was a historic event. The bill goes into effect immediately, but you won't get penalized before January 2021.

"This legislation represents an issue whose time has come when Arizona says it's no longer okay to text or do anything else with your phone behind the wheel," said Gov. Ducey.

"It feels incredible. We're so thankful to everyone who has helped to pass this bill.. great day for Arizona in general," said Toni Townsend, mother of fallen Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend. He was hit and killed by a driver that police say was texting at the time of the crash.

It was a long time coming for families who have lost loved ones in the years prior -- and for victims who nearly missed death, but not without a painful recovery.

Former firefighter Brendan Lyons is one of those victims.

"18th state in the nation to adopt a hands-free law. This is a tremendous thing, but at what cost? So many families have lost their lives and so many people have suffered at the hands of a negligent motorist. The idea here is to get your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and your mind on the task at hand," he said.

The new bill goes into effect immediately, but penalties begin in 2021. The bill bans the use of any type of electronic handheld device while driving, however, a driver can use their cellphone to report any illegal activity or to call for help. A driver can also use their cellphone while parked or at a red light.

"This bill will change behavior so that people won't be on their phone, so they won't be texting and change behavior and allow law enforcement latitude to be instructive. The objective here is to not write tickets, it's to save lives," said Ducey.

Going forward, advocates will be educating drivers and trying to change that behavior now before the penalties begin.

House Bill 2318:
Texting while driving; prohibition; enforcement
apps.azleg.gov/BillStatus/BillOverview/71430

Senate Bill 1141:
Distracted driving
apps.azleg.gov/BillStatus/BillOverview/71689

>>VIDEO: Gov. Ducey signs HB 2318 into law

The Associated Press contributed to this report.