Distracted driving bills front and center at Capitol

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PHOENIX -- The issue of distracted driving is taking center stage at the Arizona State Capitol Monday.

Tucson Democrat Steve Farley is sponsoring bills that would ban texting while driving, as well as all cell phone use by drivers who are younger than 18.

Farley is putting a face on the cause by introducing Dr. Robert Okerblom of California. Okerblom's son, Eric,  was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. Eric was 19.

"He was out on a Saturday afternoon cycling," said Eileen Okerblom, Eric's mom. "He was on a straight road in broad daylight and he was hit from behind by a teenaged distracted driver."

The driver reportedly was texting at the time of the accident.

Robert Okerblom said he misses his son every day.

"I have to accept the unacceptable," the visibly emotional father told 3TV's Javier Soto.

Farley and Okerblom will be speaking at Moon Valley High School Monday before going to the Capitol.

Statistics from the insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that using a handheld device while driving increases the risk of getting into a serious wreck by 400 percent.

According to the website TextKills.com, an average of 11 teenagers die every day in car wrecks caused by inattentive drivers.

According to AAA, drivers double their risk of crashing for every two seconds they take their eyes off the road.

So far, 30 states have banned texting while driving.

While the Grand Canyon State does not ban texting while driving, the city of Phoenix has since 2007.

Several measures have come before the Arizona State Legislature in the past several years.

Currently, Senate Bill 1538 is up for debate. If passed, the new law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, and would impose a $50 fine on drivers who are caught reading, writing or sending text messages while driving. That fine would jump to $200 if a driver is involved in a wreck while texting and driving.

“Texting while driving is one of the biggest public health issues on the road today,” said Linda Gorman, director of communications and public affairs for AAA Arizona, in a news release. “As an advocate for the safety and security of the motoring public, AAA wholeheartedly supports this legislation, as it would save lives by banning the most dangerous distraction on the road.”

According to a Behavior Research Center survey last year, nearly nine out of 10 Arizonans support a statewide ban on texting while driving.