As state lawmakers in Tallahassee prepare for another legislative session, the fight against distracted drivers continues with a new push for tougher texting while driving laws.
Drivers in Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota can legally text and drive without being pulled over and ticketed. In Florida, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning police need a reason, like speeding or a broken taillight, to cite drivers for texting.
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities will hear SB 90. If enacted into law, the bill would make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida.
The companion bill, HB 121, is co-sponsored by Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton, and Richard Stark, a Democrat from Weston. The bill would also double penalties for texting while driving in a school zone or in a school crossing.
"Our laws shouldn’t force police officers to wait for tragedies to happen if they can act to prevent them on the front end,” said Slosberg.
In 2016, there were an estimated 50,000 crashes due to distracted driving. These accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.
Florida lags behind other states when it comes to tough texting while driving legislation. In fact, some states have had laws banning the use of all cell phones behind the wheel since 2008.
“Florida is one of only four states that doesn’t enforce texting while driving as a primary offense. I would like to commend the Senate for hearing this life-saving legislation and I look forward to an honest and open debate here in the House," said Rep. Slosberg.
There has been some pushback in years past to enacting a new, more strict texting while driving law. Sen. Perry Thurston (D, Fort Lauderdale) fears it could give police officers a reason to pull over black drivers unfairly. Thurston is the head of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and cited a 2014 study by the American Civil Liberties Union that showed black drivers in Florida were stopped and ticketed for not wearing seat belts almost twice as often as white drivers.
Slosberg says her proposed bill includes requiring law enforcement agencies adopt policies to ensure that texting while driving laws are enforced in a race neutral way.
“Empowering our law enforcement officers to keep Florida drivers safe is a common-sense policy that will improve our state’s public safety,” stated Rep. Richard Stark. “I’m glad this important legislation is getting a hearing in the Senate and I hope we will get the same opportunity in the House.”
The 2018 Florida legislative session begins Jan. 9, 2018. The last day of regular session is March 9, 2018.