Hands off your phone, eyes on the road


A bill was filed in the Senate on Nov. 21 that would ban drivers from typing or reading texts, emails and other electronic messaging while driving.

The measure (SB 52) was filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. Known as “secondary offense,” an officer can only issue a ticket for texting while driving if the individual has been stopped for other traffic violations. An officer cannot pull over a car because the driver is texting.

Drivers would still be able to read weather alerts and safety information. Electronic maps and navigational devices would also be allowed.

Kenisha Murphy, a third-year psychology student at Florida State University from West Palm Beach, has been in more than one accident due to distracted drivers using their cellphones.

“I’ve been in three accidents in Tallahassee this year because of people not paying attention,” Murphy said. “Two-thirds were because of phone distractions.”

Under the bill, texting while driving would be a nonmoving violation. Fines could be up to $30.

“I believe this is the best opportunity to get something going,” said Kevin Rambosk, sheriff of Collier County. “So many lives can be spared if every state enforces this law.”

Detert has sponsored the proposal for the past two years with no success, despite bipartisan support. For the bill to be effective, it has to go through the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House has not approved it thus far.

Former House speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, blocked the proposal in his chamber.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said Florida has other laws in place that folks can argue are infringements on their liberties.

“The two lawmakers who wanted to ban the use of texting the most are no longer in the Legislature,” Williams said. 

    According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, ten states, Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving. Except for Maryland and West Virginia (until July 2013), all laws are primary enforcement – an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cellphone without any other traffic offense taking place.

Arkansas also bans the use of handheld cellphones while driving in a school zone or a highway construction area.

In Michigan, teens with probationary licenses whose cellphone usage contributes to traffic crashes or tickets may not use a cellphone while driving.

Florida is one of seven states without any restrictions on texting while driving.

Bills can now be filed and committee meetings on proposed legislation have begun. Lawmakers will be in full session in March.