After years of inaction by lawmakers, Florida’s House Speaker said Wednesday he backs new legislation to toughen penalties for texting while driving.
The developments come after The Palm Beach Post requested state records showing crash reports listing distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida, injuries rose 16 percent and deaths increased 13 percent in 2016. Injuries associated specifically with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County, the newspaper reported in June.
Florida is one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense.
Yet state lawmakers have for years refused to make it more than a secondary offense, meaning police could not cite it unless they pulled a driver over for another offense such as speeding.
Steve Augello, whose daughter Allie died in a crash in the Tampa area he believes was clearly caused by another driver’s texting, said that made him “angry as hell.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised HB 33 filed Wednesday by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and prime co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, which makes texting and driving a primary offense.
The GOP speaker said in a statement,”Texting and driving presents a real, life-threatening danger to Floridians both on and off the road. The data is overwhelming and the need to act is equally compelling. We’re proud to unveil a bill that does just that while also addressing legitimate civil liberties concerns. This bill establishes a proper balance between safety and law enforcement and our cherished liberties. The goal is safer streets, not greater conflict.”
Corcoran commended Toledo “for taking on this issue” and thanked Slosberg “for her heartfelt and personal commitment to the safety of Floridians on the road.”
Slosberg said, “Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the ‘Texting While Driving Ban’ as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries. I’ve been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”
Toledo said as a mother of five children the “numbers are as frightening as they are compelling.”
Here’s what sponsors say the bill does:
It strengthens the current ban on texting, emailing, and instant messaging while driving, by changing the current enforcement of the ban from secondary to primary.
A first violation remains a nonmoving violation that carries a $30 fine plus court costs, for a total fine of up to $108.
A second or subsequent violation committed within five years is a moving violation that carries a $60 fine plus court costs, for a total fine of up to $158, with three points added to the driver license record of the motor vehicle operator.
Any violation of the ban that causes a crash results in the addition of six points to the offender’s driver license record.
Any violation of the ban committed in conjunction with any moving violation for which points are assessed, when committed within a school safety zone results in an additional two points being added to the offender’s driver license record.
The bill protects civil liberties by requiring a warrant to access a driver’s phone. It also requires a law enforcement officer who stops a motor vehicle for a violation of the ban to inform the driver of his or her right to decline a search of the phone.