State lawmakers are sending a message to new teen drives: Put down that phone.

On a 3-1 vote Wednesday members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety approved a measure to prohibit cell phone use by anyone younger than 18 with a learner's permit or for the first six months of driving. That would cover not just texting but chatting as well.

Stuart Goodman, lobbyist for AAA Arizona, told lawmakers the statistics support the move. He said that from 1982 to 2007, alcohol related fatalities for teens dropped.

“Yet the overall number of fatalities have stayed the same,” he said. “And the view is that distracted driving has now replaced alcohol-related accidents or fatalities as one of the leading causes of young deaths behind the wheel.”

The idea of special restrictions on new motorists is not new.

For example, existing law generally precludes them from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., though there are exceptions for things like driving to school or work, or if a parent or guardian who has a driver's license is present.

Similarly, anyone licensed for less than six months cannot have more than one other person younger than 18 in the vehicle. Siblings are excepted, as are situations with a parent in the vehicle.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who has attempted to get some similar restrictions for five years, said he crafted SB 1241 to be as narrow in scope as possible.

One provision prohibits police from stopping a teen solely because of cell phone use. Citations can be issued only if the person was pulled over for some other reason.

A first-time violation carries a maximum fine of $75, though it also would extend those restrictions that now expire after six months another 30 days. Repeat offenses, though, mean bigger fines and longer restrictions.

And Melvin said it is written in a way that it could never be applied to anyone older.

Even with that, the proposal proved too much for Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Sierra Vista. She said lawmakers should not single out cell phone use for special regulations for anyone.

“There's a lot of distractions in teenagers as well as adults,” Griffin said. “And unless we address other things like music and food and makeup and other things, I cannot support this bill.”

But Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said that ignores what is happening on Arizona roads.

“I've had to swerve or move -- I haven't been hit yet -- dozens of times by people on cell phones and doing this and that,'' he said. "So, as much as I'm against the intrusion, I think the tradeoff may be worth it to try to keep these kids from hurting themselves or other people.”

The legislation also needs approval from the Transportation Committee before going to the full Senate.

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