Arizona teens will soon face a six-month countdown before they start texting and driving.
Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law on Thursday that takes away the state's behind-the-wheel cellphone privilege for the first six months of driving for everyone under 18.
But it's not much of a ban, compared to other states.
Arizona is one of only four states that don't ban texting and driving. Fourteen states ban all cellphone use while driving, and 37 states already have some kind of ban on cellphone use for teen drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It doesn't even come close to the efforts, none successful, over the last 10 years by Senator Steve Farley, D-Tucson, to ban texting and driving in Arizona.
In a statement about the new law today, Ducey said he would rather see educational campaigns than "blanket laws that let politicians feel like they've checked the box, and then move on to the next issue. For that reason, I am skeptical of large-scale bans on texting while driving — I just don't think they work."
He then goes on to explain to why this small-scale ban is different: "For our youth, these laws can act as a teacher."
Ducey wrote that he actually favors a stricter ban on texting-while-driving for "all minors."
The new law puts a chip in what is still mostly a free-for-all of cellphone use while driving in Arizona. It's a common sight at red lights, or on packed Arizona freeways at rush hour, to see drivers casually reading from or interacting with their smart phones.
The law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2018, bans all use of a "wireless communication device" while driving for people under 18 who have a learner's permit, and for the first six months of new drivers under their Class G, for graduated, license.
For driver's who get a learner's permit at the minimum required age, 15 years and six months, the new law would mean a full year of driving without legal use of a cel phone.
There are a couple of exceptions:
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- Teen drivers otherwise subject to the ban can use turn-by-turn voice navigation, but they can't adjust the device or enter a destination while driving.
- Emergency use while driving is acceptable.
The law also prevents officers from pulling over teens on state highways for violating the ban unless some other violation is occurring. On city streets, though, police can apparently use the law to justify stopping a teen driver.
No exception is made for hands-free driving use. And what about using Pandora or some other music-streaming service while driving? It's unclear, because while the exception is made for navigation, there's no exception for the affected teens to use a wireless device to play music or a podcast while driving.
Six months goes slowly for teens. But they'll be counting every second until the end of their first six months of driving — when they can get work done and Instagram posts posted at 75 mph on the freeway, like the rest of Arizona.