Motorists could only use hands-free wireless devices while moving on Florida roads, under a Senate proposal approved Wednesday.
The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to support the proposal (SB 76), which is aimed at preventing texting while driving and other types of distracted driving. The approval came after sponsor Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, changed the bill to include the hands-free requirement, which is supported by traffic-safety advocates to try to get motorists to put down electronic devices.
Simpson said after the meeting he hopes the proposal will find support in upcoming negotiations with the House, which has been reluctant to go to a hands-free requirement.
Simpson compared the evolving issue with seat-belt laws that people questioned when enacted in the 1980s and 1990s.
“There is not anybody that would get in a car today or would put any of their children in a car that would not put a seatbelt around them, or car restraints,” Simpson said. “I think the technology outgrew just seatbelts. And we’ve got computers that we walk around now we call cell phones, and so there is a great opportunity for drivers to be distracted … so I think this is the seatbelt law of our day. I think it will save at least as many, probably more, lives than seatbelts do.”
The House measure (HB 107), which is ready to go to the full House, matches the Senate proposal in shifting texting while driving from a “secondary” offense to a “primary” offense, but it doesn’t impose a hands-free requirement.
Currently, police can only cite motorists for texting behind the wheel if they are pulled over for other reasons. By making it a primary offense, police could pull over motorists for texting while driving.
The House measure would allow drivers to use wireless devices for navigation. Also, the House ban wouldn’t apply when vehicles are stationary.
Debbie Wanninkhof, a Miami-Dade County resident, has been a constant presence in the Capitol pushing for a hands-free law by reminding lawmakers her 25-year-old son Patrick was killed on an Oklahoma highway by a driver using a cellphone. She said “texting is just part of the problem.”
“There is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, posting, reading, scrolling, shopping, selfies, videos, gaming, face-timing, calling. A hands-free law closes the distracted loopholes,” Wanninkhof said.
Last year, the House approved a proposal to make texting while driving a primary offense, but it did not go further amid concerns by senators about issues such as racial profiling.
With Simpson’s changes Wednesday, both proposals would require law-enforcement officers to record the race and ethnicity of people who receive citations for texting while driving.
As part of Simpson’s proposal, county clerks of court would be able to dismiss cases of first-time offenders when violators buy wireless communications devices that can be used hands-free.
Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, quickly backed the “hands-free” proposal.
“By encouraging drivers to keep both hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, SB 76 will help law enforcement better protect the public we serve,” Mercer said.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
How is this not a law yet? Every day I see people driving the speed limit while tapping their breaks for no reason. It is so obvious they are texting or talking on the phone. So many accidents will be avoided and lives will be saved. GET OFF THE PHONE AND HIT THE GAS PEDAL ALREADY!
With the number of accidents in Flagler County, it should be made a law that it is illegal to text or speak on cell phones while driving. Pull over and save a life when, you are doing your texting and driving.
I hope this is law, I was hit last year by a kid driving while texting. His answer to the police was, he was getting an important message from his mother and had to answer it. .Wrong answer, but it cost them a lot more than their car was worth.
The Police use of laptops and radios require them to distracted drive all the time…….they are better than us….
I hope this has a code red on it to expedite.
Yes and also fast track $1000 fines for failure to use directional signals!!! And fine those coming out of the no left turn sign at walmart $5000 when they come out of there and turn left. Let’s get real, enforce the keep right, pass left law…..Mandatory $1000 fine! Bravo Sierra
I just drove home from st augustine on 95 ,as I do every work day and as usual ,I saw at least 5 idiots texting and driving, they drive just as bad as someone who is drunk off their ass.I cant wait until these jackasses start getting tickets for texting and driving.
Coach Chris says
This sounds like a great way to make our roads a bit safer. As for the police, they need their tools to protect our community. As of the directional signals,YES please. They should make this a fault state so they are held responsible for not using their turn signals.
I agree with Instigator…the deputies with laptops are also distracted as I’ve seen on a number of occasions them trying to type and drive at the same time. When did laptops in patrol cars become so necessary? Remember Adam 12? They managed just fine with a radio :)
Joe Right says
How is texting while driving related to racial profiling ???? Really !
Every time we are on I95 we see tractor trailer drivers swerving. If we pass them (carefully) we can see them looking down at their phones. Texting, I’m sure. Truckers used to be the safest drivers on the road. This is scary!
Concerned Citizen says
As someone who drives a lot for work I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had close calls from distracted drivers. And that includes truckers and Law Enforcement who should know better. The rules of the road apply to everyone !!
2 years ago my company instituted a no cell phone usage policy in company vehicles. This is also in effect if you are driving a personal vehicle on company time. You can be terminated immediately if phone usage is determined to be the cause of an accident. The rule is hands free voice conversation. Only when it is safe to do so.
Over the years this has translated into my off duty driving habits and has made me a better driver. I will wait most of the time before even using the phone. It annoys people but oh well. I’ve been driving since I was 17 and am now 48 and have been accident/ticket free.
As a former LEO/ FF EMT I have seen the results of distracted driving. I have seen what happens first hand when a vehicle eats the end of a semi. Or a vehicle hits a motorcycle after violating a right of way and vice versa. Motorcycle drivers are just as bad.
Everyone demands that our roads become safer. We can demand all we want and pass all the laws possible. Change and safety on OUR roads begins with US. It begins with the driver behind the wheel of the vehicle/bike you are driving.
Accountability starts and ends with the driver. Common courtesy and respect goes a long way to promoting safe roads and better driving habits.
To our Law Enforcement community I say this. I have seen numerous Deputies/Troopers violate right of ways and make bad decisions turning or lane changing. In almost every instance you were on your lap top. While I am supportive as a retiree I say this. We hold you to higher standards because it’s YOUR job to keep us safe. Do the right thing at ALL times and set examples for us.
Enough already! says
A friend in Texas just told me that if you are in a school zone and you are talking or texting, you will get a $1,000 fine! That’s what needs to happen here in Florida. Texting and driving is WORST than driving drunk, so something really needs to be done about it. L