Initiative Would Make Cell Phone Chats Illegal While Driving

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Talking on your cellular phone while driving a vehicle could turn out to be quite expensive in the future.

A petition drive launched Wednesday is pushing for an initiative on the November 2008 ballot that would make it illegal to talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving.

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The fine for violation would be $100 and could be increased to $200 if using the phone was the cause of an accident.

The effort is being led by the Safer Road Arizona Committee, chaired by Maricopa resident Bonita Burks.

The deadline to collect the required 153,365 signatures is July 3, 2008, which would then go to voters in November of that year.

Payson Police Commander Don Engler said there have not been many accidents in Payson tied directly to people talking on their cell phones while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

But, the police commander said, if the voters pass the law, the Payson Police Department will enforce it.

Engler said he has seen a number of drivers who talk regularly on their cellular phones while driving.

"I think the hands-free method is a good approach," he said, adding that using a cellular phone while driving affects people differently.

"The key is to not let it impact you," he said.

Adam Jonus, store manager of Rim Country Cellular in Payson, said he agrees that people should not be using a cell phone while driving without a hands-free method, unless there was an emergency.

People who come in to purchase phones often ask about headsets and other hands-free methods, he said, and added that all of the phones he sells are capable of connecting to a headset.

A $100 fine for using a cell phone while driving is a little steep, Jonus said. A first offense should result in a warning.

The petition drive started after a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, failed.

The bill received a lot of support, he said, but several members of the House of Representatives opposed the bill.

Engler said he knows there are some states with laws that do not allow the use of cell phones by drivers without a headset.

"Hopefully, there would be a public awareness campaign coming," he said.

While signatures are being collected for this petition, there is another bill in the state Legislature focused on people who type text messages while driving. Engler said he is certain typing text messages on a cell phone creates inattention by the driver.

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