Lawmakers Seek To Toughen Texting While Driving Law

Mar 18, 2015

New public safety legislation is hitting the table this session with distracted drivers at the top of the list. When it comes to texting while driving, State Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Broward) says slow your roll or ante up.

State Sen. Maria Sachs speaks at the anti-texting while driving conference at the Capitol.
Credit Keta Browning / WFSU News

The new measure intends to double citation fines for texting violations in school zones and designated cross walks. Sachs also wants to target the act as a primary offence, meaning that a driver can be stopped for texting and driving itself. She says secondary enforcement of this ban has not been effective in stopping the loss of lives.

“The duty of government is to protect its citizens and this is one area where government needs to step in. In fact government has stepped in, in 44 states of the country,” said Sachs.

Fellow democrat Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) is among those backing the bill. Slosberg says public safety should be the number one priority in the legislature.

“My daughter died in a car crash and I just want to make sure that I try my best and I’m fighting every single minute to make sure that public safety is our number one priority. And unfortunately in this legislature it takes way too long, however, we just gotta keep on fighting,” Slosberg said.

Slosberg isn’t the only one that takes the issue personally.

Patricia Viccaro became a strong advocate for the anti-texting while driving legislation after the death of her son. Viccaro says her son Garrett and his friend Justin Mitchell lost their lives in an accident caused by a distracted driver. The pair were fishing on a local bridge when the driver lost control of his vehicle, impaling the boys.

“Justin, hits the bridge… severs his back, he gets thrown into the water and he drowns. My son Garrett, is dragged and thrown… brain injury. He’s dead,” said Viccaro.

The driver paid a $1,000 fine and had his license suspended for 10 years. The sentence was later reduced to 3 years.

Just months later, Florida established a limited ban on texting while driving in 2013.

At least seven bills concerning distracted drivers will go before the legislature this session. Like Sachs, State Rep. Rick Stark (D-Weston) also plans to end the secondary enforcement restriction with a similar bill on the table this session.

“I filed House Bill 1 this year, which is the same bill as Maria Sachs in the Senate. She’s a little bit more confident in how the House of Representatives is going to follow suit on that. I hope she’s correct,” Stark said.

Republicans have tended to shy away from stricter enforcement, but Stark says the roadways won’t be safe until this legislation sees a positive outcome.