Texting and driving: Tougher rules appear dead in Senate

Update Wednesday: A House bill is positioned for formal passage of tougher enforcement of texting while driving Thursday but the measure appears unlikely to become law as a committee chairman won’t let the Senate version come to a vote.

State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach

Senate SB 90 sponsor Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, told the News Service of Florida he continues to push for the bill but appropriations chairman Rob Bradley has indicated the proposal likely won’t come up before the legislative session ends next week.

“All I can do is push as hard as I can on getting stuff done,” Perry said.

House co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray, offered a response to Sen. Bradley’s stated privacy concerns with HB 33.

The House bill “strikes the proper balance between privacy rights and safety,” she said.

“In addition, texting while driving is already against the law, but it’s only enforceable as secondary offense,” she continued. “Since it has taken effect, violations have been issued and I have not heard any drivers complain about Law enforcement officers attacking the privacy rights of drivers who have been cited under the current ban.

“We are elected to represent the best interests of the people we represent. It is critical that do all we can to ensure that we do not lose another life on Florida’s roadways to a texting driver.”

Original post: A Florida Senate committee’s last chance to authorize police to pull over drivers for texting on cell phones comes Tuesday and a House representative from Palm Beach County is imploring its chairman to “do the right thing.”

Florida is one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning cops cannot cite it unless they pull someone over for another infraction like speeding. At that point it brings a $30 fine, plus local add-on fees.

Records requested by The Palm Beach Post showed crash reports listing distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016, and injuries associated with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has expressed concerns SB 90 gives police too broad a pretext to stop motorists, and opens the door to invasions of privacy in the course of seeking proof on phones. The bill’s last chance to be heard in a scheduled Senate committee meeting comes Tuesday, meaning it’s near death for the 2018 session without prompt action.

The House version, HB 33, is expected to reach the floor of that chamber Wednesday and has the House Speaker’s support.

“I implore Sen. Bradley to do the right thing and bring SB 90 up for a vote in the Appropriations Committee as soon as possible,” said co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach. “I also urge all Floridians to contact their local legislators and urge them to support HB 33 and SB 90.”

The bills would make texting while driving a primary offense.

Bradley, a former prosecutor, said a tougher law brings worrying considerations such as “increasing the likelihood of pretextual stops” and increasing “government-citizen involvement tenfold potentially.”

Bill supporters say Florida has some of the weakest penalties in the nation for texting, sending all the wrong signals.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers,” Slosberg said.  “Primary enforcement of texting and driving laws decreases fatalities—most significantly among teenagers. ”

 

 

 

Texting while driving: Tougher enforcement advances in Florida House

On the opening day of Florida’s legislative session Tuesday, a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense unanimously cleared a state House committee where it died last year.

Texting behind the wheel has become a huge cultural problem where it can seem like “everybody does it,” but “as the state of Florida we must start sending the right message,” said HB 33 prime co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

After years of gridlock, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee passed 14-0 a measure that this session has the announced support of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Florida is one of four states that do not make texting while driving a primary offense.

That means police can not cite it unless they pulled a driver over for another offense such as speeding.

Similar legislation in the Senate has won early committee approval as well. It still has a long way to go in both chambers, but the effort is off to a much stronger start this session as more families lose loved ones on the road to distracted drivers, and troubling statistics have made the issue harder to dismiss.

Florida crash reports citing distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016, and injuries associated specifically with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County, The Palm Beach Post reported in June about in-depth data it requested.

“The fact that Florida is one of many states experiencing double-digit spikes in distracted driving-related crashes and is only one of four states that hasn’t already made texting while driving a primary enforcement law is mind-boggling,” said Logan McFaddin, the Florida-based regional manager for an insurer association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.  Making it a primary offense, she argued, will “save lives.”

Under current law, an officer cannot pull over a driver solely for texting even if he or she witnesses the act, Slosberg said. Now police can take much more direct action, she said.

“Law enforcement can stop it when he sees it, immediately,” said Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs. “That’s what we’re doing here.”

No one among more than two dozen speakers at Tuesday’s hearing, including several people who lost family members, spoke in direct opposition to the bill. But even in support, several legislators voiced concerns, either that it does not go far enough or that it raises unintended problems.

Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, expressed qualms it could give police one more reason to pull over minorities. Too often “that doesn’t end well,” Newton said.

Slosberg said data on enforcing laws requiring seat belt use, for example, suggested citations were not disproportionately handed out based on race.

Even supporters acknowledge texting behind the wheel is often difficult to prove and it’s only one of several ways drivers can be distracted. Few drivers voluntarily admit texting. But sponsors argue it’s critical to send a much stronger message than the current law allows.

The bill strengthens the current ban on texting, emailing, and instant messaging while driving, by changing the current enforcement of the ban from secondary to primary.

The bill protects civil liberties by requiring a warrant to access a driver’s phone, sponsors say. 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.

At the same time, a phone search might not be required for a citation if the officer witnesses the offense, according to a law enforcement official speaking at the hearing.

Many features of current law would remain in place, including that the ban does not apply to stationary vehicles, first responders or people reporting emergencies, or the use of navigation systems, according to a House staff analysis.

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.

 

 

NEW: Driver texting penalties strengthen under speaker-supported bill

After years of inaction by lawmakers, Florida’s House Speaker said Wednesday he backs new legislation to toughen penalties for texting while driving.

Allie Augello’s death left her father Steve convinced Florida needs tougher rules against drivers using cell phones. (Courtesy of Augello family)

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.

Bill to let cops pull over Fla. drivers for texting clears first stop

After years of stalled legislation, a bill to let police pull over Florida drivers for texting passed its first state legislative committee of the 2018 session Tuesday.

The Palm Beach Post reported in June that crash reports listing distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016, according to records the newspaper requested. Injuries associated with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County.

But state legislators last spring declined to strengthen what advocates call some of the lightest penalties in the nation for drivers texting on cell phones.

“It drives me crazy the law is so weak,” said Steve Augello, whose daughter was killed in the Tampa area in a crash he believes was caused by another driver’s texting.

On Tuesday, SB 90, sponsored by state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, passed the Senate communications, energy and public utilities committee 7-1.

“All too often we hear of the tragic stories of families that have been affected by someone who was texting behind the wheel,” Perry said. “I’m proud to sponsor this vital piece of legislation that will make texting and driving a primary offense in the State of Florida and join the many other states who have answered the call for safer roadways.”

Florida is one of five states that do not make texting while driving a primary offense. That means police have to stop a motorist for another reason, such as speeding, to write a citation. A fine is $30, though Florida Highway Patrol officials say in Palm Beach County local add-on fees make it $116.

“This is an important step for saving lives on Florida roads,” said Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, representing nearly 1,000 members. “We need to change driver behavior, and we believe that toughening the distracted driving laws will save lives by encouraging people to think twice about picking up the phone while driving.”

Safety is the top priority, she said, “but the increase in accidents also could be impacting consumers’ insurance costs. The recent spike in the number of auto accidents resulting from distracted driving comes at a time when repair, labor, medical and other costs associated with accidents are also rising.”

It’s still early in the process, and skeptical legislators in past years have questioned whether there’s proof that texting-while-driving bans in other states have reduced accident rates.

“My main concern here is not giving people false hope that this is going to solve the problem,” said state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “If we really want to do something to solve the problem, we should just not have people be able to use their phones while driving.”

But passing a committee represents a more promising start than some bills have enjoyed in the past.

“Our number of distracted driving injuries and deaths are rising and our laws are not getting any better,” Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton and a sponsor of House legislation, said in June. Last session, she noted, “none of my bills actually received a hearing.”

 

Boca weighs message to state: Fix lax texting, driving laws

Update: The Boca Raton city council passed the resolution 5-0 to become the first local-government council to approve it, News Service of Florida reported.

Original post: Police in Florida cannot pull over drivers for texting, but a state representative wants Boca Raton to send a message this week to legislators that lives are at risk because laws are too slack.

State Rep. Slosberg

The Palm Beach Post reported crash reports indicating distracted driving rose 10 percent in Florida in 2016. Injuries associated with texting rose 45 percent in Palm Beach County.

Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, said she is working with Boca Raton City Councilman Robert Weinroth to introduce a local resolution urging the state legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense.

Florida is one of four states that make it a secondary offense, meaning no penalty unless unless drivers are pulled over for something else like speeding. Bills by Slosberg and others to strengthen the law made little headway in last spring’s legislative session.

Slosberg said she sent requests to every commissioner in the state asking them to adopt this public safety resolution. Weinroth plans to introduce the resolution supporting the legislation before the Boca Raton city council on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

“Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the texting-while-driving ban as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries,” Slosberg said.  “I’ve been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”

 

Stunning 92% of drivers use phone, Fla. gets study’s 2nd worst score

Forget what people say. It’s what they really do behind the wheel that matters.

A study released today suggests 92 percent of U.S. drivers with cell phones have used them while moving in a car in the past 30 days and Florida gets the nation’s worst score for such use after Louisiana.

“It’s pretty insane,” said Ryan Ruffing, director of communications at EverQuote Inc., the company behind the research. “Most people consider themselves good drivers, but they are not aware of how often they are using their phones behind the wheel.”

An app called EverDrive collected data on more than 2.7 million vehicle trips and 230 million miles driven, according to the company. By sensing motion changes and other factors, the app assigns drivers a score on everything from phone use to use hard braking, speeding, risky acceleration and hard turns.

State Rep. Slosberg

“I’m not surprised by the results of the study,” said state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “We’re one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense.”

That means police don’t cite drivers for texting on cell phones unless they pull them over for something else like speeding.

Slosberg and others have sponsored legislation to beef up penalties, but it is not clear those measures will get through committees in time to pass before the session ends in early May.

The EverDrive technology does not count hands-free devices or incidental phone motion in a pocket or car seat, but aims rather to detect active phone use such as unlocking it while the vehicle is moving, Ruffing said. Use can include texting and talking.

EverDrive, a privately-held firm based in Cambridge, Mass. and founded in 2011, calls itself an online insurance marketplace in the U.S. matching drivers with insurance providers based on price and coverage needs. The company insists it does not share individual driver data with insurance companies without permission, according to Ruffing, but its goal is to encourage safer habits by making drivers more self-aware.

Is it working? Company officials say there is evidence it may be. That 92 percent figure for phone use may sound high, but it was higher last year: 96 percent.

Southerners including Floridians have the highest phone usage rate while driving — on 41 percent of trips. Other regions used the phone on 34 percent to 37 percent of trips.

Last year EverQuote calculated Americans were on the phone about half a mile for every 11 miles driven.

Insurance companies such as Progressive have invited customers to use plug-in devices to measure many driving behaviors, if not necessarily phone use. Despite initial advertising claims, the gizmos can raise premiums as well lower them, The Palm Beach Post found. Drivers may not realize the tech cannot always distinguish between inattentive driving and, say, a hard stop to save a neighbor’s dog. Also often penalized: Driving after midnight, even if you work the night shift.

Still, just about everyone acknowledges phone use behind the wheel represents a big and growing safety issue.

“We hope this data sheds light on actual driving habits versus people’s perception of their driving skills,” said Seth Birnbaum, CEO of EverQuote. “Our goal is to empower drivers to use their scores to improve their driving skills and ultimately make the roads safer for themselves and the 214 million drivers on the roads across the U.S.”

Update: AT&T officials said they commissioned research showing 57 percent of people are more likely to stop driving distracted if a friend or passenger brings it up. As AT&T spokeswoman Kelly Starling in North Palm Beach said, “That means half of people are just waiting for someone to tell them to stop.”

During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, AT&T said it has launched the #TagYourHalf social media campaign to “encourage the public to join the conversation on Twitter.”