With support from the House speaker, a proposal to make texting while driving a “primary” offense in Florida received unanimous support Tuesday from a House panel as the 2018 legislative session opened.
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 33), which would allow law-enforcement officers to stop vehicles when they see motorists texting behind the wheel.
“This will prevent the actual behavior of texting behind the wheel,” said Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa. “Because right now, it’s completely unenforceable as a secondary offense.”
Currently, motorists can only be charged with texting and driving if they are stopped for other offenses, such as speeding.
The bill, which must still go before two more panels, advanced despite concern by St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton — a committee member who voted for the bill — who said the change from a secondary to primary offense could be used to racially profile African-Americans.
“I know the inference of having the safety.” Newton, who is black, said. “I get it. But at the same time, when you talk about how it affects everybody in the state … there are a lot that look like me that I want to ensure get a fair shake.”
Also, some supporters of the texting-while-driving ban would prefer lawmakers require motorists to be “hands free” from electronic devices. They also contend the House proposal could prevent law enforcement from inspecting electronic devices if drivers simply claim they were using allowed GPS rather than typing messages.
“There’s just too many loopholes in it,” said Demetrius Branca, whose 19-year-old son Anthony Branca was killed by a distracted driver just over three years ago in Tallahassee. “In my mind, distracted driving, the core of it, is no different than drunk driving. You are doing something that you know to be dangerous, and you are endangering everyone around you.”
The House bill would allow motorists to text while in stationary vehicles and would require law-enforcement officers to inform drivers they have a right to decline a search of the wireless devices. The measure also would prohibit officers from confiscating handheld devices without warrants.
The civil liberty protections were important for many lawmakers. Bills in the past to toughen texting-while-driving laws have failed to advance in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Slosberg said after the meeting she’d prefer a “hands free” requirement and for charges to be criminal, but she said the bill had been negotiated and needs to be viewed as “a step in the right direction.”
“We’re moving the needle,” added Toledo, who noted her stepson bragged that he knew he couldn’t be pulled over for texting while driving unless he was committing a separate offense.
“That’s when I’m thinking we need harsher legislation,” Toledo said. “We need to be clear with our children that you cannot text and drive.”
The proposal got a major boost in December when House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced his support.
The Land O’ Lakes Republican said that as the father of six children, including two teens who have driver licenses, he has become convinced by statistics showing the dangers of texting while driving, particularly for younger drivers.
The state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported nearly 50,000 distracted-driving crashes in 2016 in Florida, including 233 deaths.
Slosberg sought a texting-while-driving ban in the 2017 session and has spent the past several months urging support from local governments. More than 20 counties and nearly 30 cities approved resolutions in support of making texting while driving a primary offense.
For Slosberg, efforts to increase traffic safety are also personal.
On Feb. 23, 1996, Slosberg and her twin sister, Dori, got into a car with friends. The driver, 19, was speeding 90 mph in a 50 mph zone when the car struck a median and crashed into a car heading east. Emily Slosberg survived the crash with a punctured lung and several broken bones. Dori was killed along with four other teenagers.
The bill does not alter existing fines — $30 plus court costs for a first non-moving violation and $60, court costs and three points on a driver’s license on a second offense within five years of the first.
By not changing the fines, the House measure is closer in line with a Senate bill (SB 90) by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, that will go before the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
Always years behind the curve on some of the most important issues, issues that directly effect the lives of our citizens on a daily basis, how is this not in effect already , years ago?
Long time coming but they will still text. Just not when cops are around. How do they know when cops are around? Simple, they have the Waze app or many of the other apps to locate cops.
Cops ask Google to remove police tracking from app.
Maybe we could make it illegal to drive on bald tires first? It seems ludicrous that there is no mandatory vehicle inspections and no mandatory driving tests for senior citizens, yet somehow sending a text is the biggest problem on the road?
How is this going to be used to racially profile African-Americans?
What makes texting any more important than driving while taking legal or illegal drugs….with the drug epidemic as bad as it is don’t tell me there aren’t lots of drivers out there on the roads who are driving impaired. Law makers need to worry about the bigger problem, and that is doing something about the drug addiction in this state—it is affecting every family!!
@Anonymous, texting is driving impaired just like someone taking drugs or drinking and driving, Texting has proven it kills just like driving drunk. This is a big problem that has never been addressed. Finally , now if only the police can enforce it.
Texting and driving kill people on a daily basis, idc who are or how old, texting and driving is driving impaired, jus as bad as drinking and driving, maybe worse considering how many people are able to attempt it.
mark101—it is no where near the problem as drug addiction and drug addiction is taking more lives than texting and driving. The only reason law makers are moving this through is because it will generate more revenue and they all like to spend. It isn’t going to do much to save lives, people are still going to do it just like those that don’t and won’t wear a seat belt. What about when people are playing with the radio stations or music on their phones, or women putting on make up while driving??? Get real. Drugs are the biggest problem of all……look around. People are over dosing every day. Kids are drying at record numbers, sucide’s are up, arrests are up, hospitals can’t keep up with the demand for the need for drug treatment and help. Every family today is being affected by drug addiction. Texting is nothing compared to the drug epidemic and yes drug impaired people are behind the wheel and I would guess they can text too. How scary is that!
Hey mark101 I guess Anon was right
Texting and driving kills, also talking on your phone and driving is very dangerous and should also be outlawed,bit is very easy to enforce no texting and no phone use, i see these people every single day, as will cops, i very rarley meet someine who doesnt wear a seatbelt ,as most have recieved a ticket and dont want to pay again, between this article and the opiods article ,florida is on a good wave, keep it up
Please. . . our politicians should certainly be able to handle two or more problems at once. . . we should not be bickering about which problem is more important. Driving distracted/impaired from texting, drugs, alcohol, talking on the phone. . . “ALL” of it should be against the law and powerfully enforced.
Meanwhile, we also certainly need some political focus on the many layers of the “Big Pharma” created opioid drug problem as well. “Follow the Money” flowing from the pharmaceutical lobbyists and sales people.
Every time a law maker wants to financially penalize someone for something it is about generating revenue….just follow the money. If there is a good excuse to get the pubic support to pass something, there is money behind it. Even our local government uses the statements of for your safety, for your security when they want to implement something or buy something….they don’t think the elected officials will catch flack that way when reelection comes around. Too bad some of us are smarter than the average bear and can see through the smoke.
So Anonymous, how would passing this law not help us, the citizens, how would it not save lives? considering the danger involved in distracted drivering