Hands Free Bill press conference informed the public about new driving safety precautions

After years of trying to pass a texting while driving ban, a large group of House and Senate lawmakers said this is the year Florida will finally reach the finish line during the Hands Free Press Conference held at The Florida Capitol. 
Photo Submitted by Diasha Henley

The Florida Capitol hosted a press conference on Wednesday, March 6, in between the Senate and the House of Representatives chambers. After years of trying to pass a texting while driving ban, a large group of House and Senate lawmakers said this is the year Florida will finally reach the finish line.

Debbie Wanninkhof lost her son after a distracted driver who was texting collided with her son's car. She emotionally told the crowd the importance of the bill passing.

“You hear the ping and you’re urged to answer immediately,” Wanninkhof said. “At the age of 25 my son was killed by a distracted driver on a charity mission, building affordable housing… Florida this is our year to save lives by putting our phones down while driving.”

There has been a rise in death in the United States and lawmakers are pointing the finger at distracted drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash. In 2013, 10 percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes were reported as distraction-affected crashes.

In efforts to make Florida a hands free state, two bills are adding weight to Florida’s current no texting and driving law. Senate Bill 76 would allow law enforcement to ticket someone for writing, putting on makeup, brushing hair, or holding a dog while driving behind the wheel. Those are all distractive offensives beyond texting.

The new bill would also allow law enforcement to pull someone over for texting and driving as the primary offense, unlike the current law.

Senate Bill 76 advanced from the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee. The bill is now in the judiciary committee. If passed, the bill would have one last stop before heading to the full Senate.

Lawmakers are confident about the distracted while driving bill because the bill has received unanimous votes in both committees that have already heard it.

David Perry, Florida State University Police Chief  and President of the Florida Police Chief Associations, joined the conference and reported his findings.

“National Highway Traffic Administration safety admin reported that distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in the United States,” Perry said. “Florida is a major contributor to this statistic.”

The Senate bill has now moved through two of its four committees of reference.

House Bill 107 is known as “Use of Wireless Communications Devices” and is the House companion bill. Bill 107 is sponsored by Representative Emily Slosberg and Representative Jackie Toledo. Representative Toledo believes Bill 107 will be a part of Florida’s law and begin to save lives.

“We are confident that this bill will be passed,” Toledo said. “The house speaker has given me assurances that the house bill will see it through the process this year with the goal of merging the two bills together. Georgia recently passed a Hands-Free law and they have seen a sudden decline in car related deaths. Florida is hoping to do the same.”

With the bill, they hope to prevent crashes related to any distracted driving and operating a motor vehicle. If reported favorably, the bill would be effective Oct. 1.