Traffic accidents and fatalities caused by distracted drivers are a major issue throughout the United States, and while innocent absent-mindedness is occasionally to blame, using a cell phone while driving is usually the culprit. Texting, making a phone call, checking a map, changing the station on Apple Music — they all take our eyes and minds off the road, even if it’s for only a few seconds.
Many states have enacted laws against using a cell phone while driving, a simple but effective way to forcefully remind drivers to put their phone away when they’re behind the wheel. It took Arizona a while to follow the crowd, but in April 2019 the governor finally signed a bill adding Arizona to the list of states with cell phone laws.
Arizona’s Cell Phone Law
House Bill 2318 was signed on April 22, 2019. You can read through the full bill for all of the specifics, but the basic idea is simple: drivers in Arizona cannot use a handheld cell phone or electronic device while driving. You’re welcome to use hands-free controls such as your car’s Bluetooth, an earpiece, or the device’s speakerphone, but the moment you touch your phone, you’re breaking the law.
The law took immediate effect upon signing, but the governor issued a “warning period” until December 31, 2020. Drivers who are caught using a handheld cell phone during the warning period won’t be cited, but they’ll get a stern warning from law enforcement to raise awareness of the new law. After January 1, 2021, law enforcement will being issuing citations for infractions.
Before you go raising your hands in frustration, the citations provided in the new law are relatively minor. A first-time citation carries a $75 – $149 fine, while subsequent citations carry a $150 – $250 fine.
Local Cell Phone Laws
Part of the purpose of House Bill 2318 was to unify cell phone laws in Arizona. Before this law was signed, there were 27 municipalities in Arizona with cell phone regulations on the books — a seriously confusing situation for Arizona drivers, especially visitors to the state.
House Bill 2318 allows these local laws to stand until December 31, 2020, though it supersedes them in any cases where the local law isn’t as strict as the state law. Starting January 1, 2021, any local cell phone laws still in place or new laws are null and void.
How does Arizona’s cell phone law compare to other state laws?
As we mentioned earlier, Arizona was one of the few holdouts for enacting cell phone regulation. Now that they’ve joined the majority of states that are addressing cell phones behind the wheel, here’s what the landscape looks like across the country:
Handheld Cell Phones
18 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using a handheld cell phone or electronic device while driving.
48 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from text messaging while driving. Missouri and Montana are the only states excluded.
Universal Cell Phone Bans
21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit school bus drivers from using a cell phone while driving.
38 states and the District of Columbia prohibit novice drivers and teens from using a cell phone while driving.
Why We Need Cell Phone Limitations While Driving
It is infuriating to be sitting at a traffic light, it turns green, and the person in front of you does not move for a solid 5 seconds until you blare on your horn and then they awkwardly lurch forward and take off speeding away. We’ve all been there. Cursing them under our breath for playing on their phones instead of paying attention to the light.
Or, you’re driving down the road and the car in front of you is going 35mph in a 45mph zone. So, you cruise on past them and glare into their window to see why this genius is going 10 under the speed limit (yes, I know we are all guilty of this passive aggressive move), and you see them texting while they’re driving. Ridiculous. Cell phones have become a major distraction to drivers and it has the chance to be quite devastating if we do not address it.
According to the Annual ADOT summary, the number of deaths from car accidents in Arizona rose 15.6% in 2015. This increase is both shocking and heart breaking. Any death is a tragedy, but the ones that could have potentially been avoided are the ones that haunt legislators the most. This significant increase in accidents and deaths from a vehicle collision has been a major cause of concern.
Cell phone usage is not the only factor that played a part in these accidents. Arizona has implemented car seat laws, drinking limits, speed limits, but nothing to address the growing concern regarding cell phone usage while driving.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re scratching your head wondering what Arizona’s cell phone law does and doesn’t cover, you’re not alone. Like most new laws, there’s usually an adjustment period while the word gets out and law enforcement begins to issue warnings and citations. That said, you can only claim ignorance of the law until the warning period is over. Beginning in 2020, you can expect a citation for any infraction.
Rounding up some of the chatter that we’ve heard online, here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Arizona’s cell phone law.
Is it Illegal to Text and Drive in Arizona?
Texting and driving in Arizona is illegal. However, the law does allow you to dictate a text through a hands-free system and listen to your messages verbally. That said, it won’t look good if you cause an accident or fatality and your phone shows you replied to a message in the car. It’s best to avoid potential issues entirely and save your texts and emails for when you get home. If it’s an emergency, pull over to a safe location before replying to your messages.
Is Arizona a Hands-Free State?
Yes, Arizona’s cell phone laws permit hands-free operation of a cell phone or electronic device. This includes your device’s speakerphone, a smartwatch speakerphone, your vehicle’s Bluetooth, headphones, and earpieces.
Is it Illegal to Talk on the Phone While Driving?
Thanks to the hands-free exception, driving while on the phone isn’t necessarily illegal under Arizona’s cell phone law. As long as you’re not touching your cell phone or device, you’re free to talk on the phone while driving.
Again, this brings up the same issue as verbally replying to text messages. It may not be illegal, but if you cause a car accident or fatality while you’re talking on the phone, it won’t look good. You may be able to dodge the cell phone citation, but you’ll almost certainly be in trouble for distracted driving.
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