PHOENIX -- For the first time ever, the state Senate on Monday voted to make it illegal to text while driving.

The 19-10 vote follows several years of defeats for sponsors at the hands of those who argued the measure amounts to "nanny state" legislation, with lawmakers telling motorists what's good for them. Several foes continued to express similar sentiments on Monday.

But Sen. Ed Bunch, R-Phoenix, said this is different.

"I don't really see this bill as a nanny state bill," he said.

"Texting while driving is basically irresponsible, pure and simple," Bunch continued. "Sometimes, as a society, we have to remind people of what personal responsibility entails."

And Bunch said this isn't simply a question of protecting people from themselves, saying those who insist on pecking out messages endanger others on the road. But Monday's Senate approval of SB 1334, sponsored by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, is just half the battle: The measure now goes to the House.

The legislation makes it illegal to operate a vehicle on a roadway while sending, receiving or reading a text message. It does not matter whether the device used is a cell phone or personal digital assistant.

Violators would be subject to a $50 fine, a penalty that rises to $200 if there is an accident.

The measure does contain an exception allowing motorists to send and receive texts while behind the wheel if they pull off the road and park the car. Trying to check texts while at a traffic light, however, would be illegal.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said the legislation is not only unnecessary but actually dilutes existing law.

Gould said someone who is texting while behind the wheel already can be charged with reckless driving. That not only has a higher penalty -- including possible jail time -- but also lets a judge decide whether to suspend someone's license for up to 90 days.

If the measure becomes law it would take effect in January, though officers would be able to issue only warnings for the first month.


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