A bill that would outlaw texting and driving in Florida is progressing through legislature with companion bills to follow.
S.B. 52, filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, recently received a 9-0 vote by the Senate’s Transportation Committee. The bill would make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning drivers must first commit a primary offense such as speeding in order to be ticketed. Offenders would be fined $30 the first time, then $60 the second time in addition to six points being added on the drivers license.
The bill also includes exemptions allowing drivers to text at red lights, view maps, use voice-commands or listen to the radio via cell phone. Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, filed a similar bill and both must make it through three committees to get to the floor for voting. Six similar bills have been filed in recent months.
“The ban won’t work because as soon a they get a ticket, people will hop right back on the phone,” said Renee Stewart, a social work student from Miami. “I’m an excellent text driver, I do it everyday and I doubt a law against it would make me stop.”
Stewart believes the ban won’t work unless texting while driving is made a primary offense.
According to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Florida is one of six states without a ban on texting and driving. Thirty-nine states have such bans and five states prohibit teens from texting while driving. In addition to S.B. 52, Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, recently filed two bills. One would prohibit anyone under 18 from using a phone while driving. The other would classify fatal accidents caused by texting as vehicular homicide.
“I try my best not to text behind the wheel,” said Daniel Sangster, a business student from Jacksonville. “Last year I rear-ended somebody and before that I did the same thing when I was looking at the map.”
He said his accidents made him try to stop texting and driving but he admits it still happens. “I have to catch myself reaching in my pocket sometimes, and I try to wait for red lights but even that got me in an accident one time.” Said Sangster.
Whether the bills pass or not depends upon the next few months of legislative action. If passed, the bans could go into effect as soon as July. Similar bills have died along the same route the past four years, but this one may have the additional support needed to make it through. AARP recently released a poll that showed 93 percent of Florida residents over the age of fifty support the ban.
Dr. Allezo Owens, Assistant Professor of Religion, practiced criminal law as a defense attorney and a prosecutor before becoming a professor. He said the public would applaud a text ban.
“The attitude of most of us is, ok I can do it; but the guy in the other lane may need to pay attention,” said Owens. “A lot of young people are involved in these accidents where they’re killing themselves, or seriously injuring or killing somebody else.”
Owens said the next step is going to be a ban on driving and talking on the cell phone.
Research shows that a text message can take a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. If traveling at fifty-five miles per hour, the vehicle will go the length of a football field before the driver looks up.