Texting while driving became illegal in Florida in 2013, but it’s only a secondary offense. That means the driver has to be pulled over for something else, such as speeding, driving recklessly or running a stop sign.
Drivers can be fined $30 for texting. And it took a four-year legislative battle for that to pass. Talking on a cell phone is not prohibited.
But there’s a bill winding its way through the Florida legislature that proposes making texting while driving a primary offense, making it easier for law enforcement to cite someone.
It sounds simple, but it’s not. Last week the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities discussed SB 144, introduced by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. The committee okayed the bill that’s in its infancy, while agreeing it needs more work.
To view that committee meeting, click here.
Among the questions raised:
- Why stop at texting? Shouldn’t any use of an electronic device, such as making emailing, Googling or using other applications also be banned?
- What proof is there that a texting-while-driving ban reduces crashes?
- How can a law enforcement officer determine whether someone is texting while driving?
- How would enforcement work when there’s a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found law enforcement must get a warrant to search someone’s cellphone?
Shane Bennett, Chief of the Lawtey Police Department, and a member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, told the committee, “Law enforcement officers around the state are seeing the consequences of distracted drivers, and quite frankly it’s scary. The current ban on texting is almost impossible to enforce. It is a secondary offense, and the public knows this.”
Bennett said making texting while driving a primary offense would discourage the deadly behavior and save lives, but he said it would be hard to prove the driver was texting and not making a call.
However, Bennett said sometimes officers can see from their own vehicle that a driver is obviously texting because the driver is holding it on the steering wheel.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said, while many states have texting-while-driving bans, there’s no proof it reduces accident rates.
Garcia asked, “How many more lives have to be lost waiting on data to ensure we pass some sensible legislation protect our children and protect our communities?”
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health indicates that crash-related hospitalizations fell by 7 percent in states that have passed the bans.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said it’s common sense that if a driver fears being pulled over for texting, he or she will think twice before texting.
“If it’s just one person, that’s better than what we have now,” Montford said.
The dangers go way beyond texting to all kinds of distracted driving.
In 2015, there were more than 45,700 distracted driving crashes in Florida resulting in more than 39,000 injuries and more than 200 fatalities, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Distractions can include talking on a cell phone, putting on makeup, reaching to comfort a child in the back seat, eating, tuning the radio, checking a GPS navigation device or even daydreaming.