House opposition blocks texting-ban bill

Feb 3, 2012

Forty-one states have a full or partial ban on texting while driving.  Florida is one of just eight states that have no such laws on the books.  Tom Flanigan reports it appears that situation is unlikely to change as a result of the 2012 lawmaking session….

Steve Augello of Spring Hill has been bringing his tragic story to Tallahassee for years:

“But my daughter was a very safe driver.  She would go three, four, five miles under the speed limit all the time.  She knows the rule; no cell phones in the car.  She was not allowed to use the cell phone in the car.  She always abided by the rules.”

But all that caution wasn’t enough to save Alessandra Augello’s life.  In 2008, the high school senior died in a car crash.  Police said the driver of the other car was texting at the time of the wreck.  Such wrecks, fatal or not, are definitely on the upswing.  Officially, Florida logged nearly three-thousand traffic crashes last year in which distracted driving was a factor.  Hank Hutchison, director of orthopedic trauma at the Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic, suspects the number is much higher:

“And I think there’s a significant number of injuries and accidents that  are worse because of this distracted driving that are not even attributed to it. You know, I’ve seen a number of cases where patients have hit another vehicle without ever hitting their brakes.”

Hutchison’s medical colleague, Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Ray Bellamy can’t believe how petty so much of today’s electronic communication really is.

“’O-M-G!  How-are-you?’  Could these messages be so important that they couldn’t wait until the car stops?”

Alessandra Augello’s mother, Agnes, thinks there’s a chance her daughter might still be alive if Florida had had a law against texting while driving…

“I’m not a politician.  I don’t know how things work up here.  I’m here as an ordinary person saying, whoever it is that’s holding it up, let it go.  We need this.  We need this now.  Please.”

Representative Ray Pilon, a Sarasota Republican, is the sponsor of the House’s bill to ban texting while driving…

“Having been in law enforcement for so many years, I look at traffic laws particularly – or any rules and regulations – as a protective thing.  Anything we can do to protect people is not a bad rule or a bad law or a bad regulation.”

The problem, Pilon says, are some of his other house colleagues, including a few in leadership.  They have a bit more of a libertarian take on the issue. 

“The feedback that I’ve received was that it’s this basic issue of government getting into peoples’ private lives and infringing upon their personal lives.”

So, since last October when his bill got hung up in committee, Pilon has been lobbying his own legislation, taking opponents arguments to the extreme.

“And I’ve said let’s just do away with DUI and stop signs and all traffic laws and let’s just let people have that personal responsibility.  But we all know that that’s not real.”

Although the House opposition remains very much real.  All this frustrates Republican State Senator Nancy Detert of Venice.  She’s her chamber’s sponsor of an anti-distracted driving bill, which has sailed through committees and is headed for a floor vote.

“Part of it is that the senators have actually read the bill and have realized that it’s just restricted to texting.  It’s not the ‘camel’s nose under the tent’; it’s not the hands-free no cell phone kind of stuff that they do in New York.  This is just, ‘don’t endanger the car next to you.’”

Still, despite what she calls the House’s irrationality on the matter, Detert is taking a long view:

“I think the House looks really bad on this issue because 97-percent  of Floridians support the issue because it’s loaded with common sense.  So they look bad on it.  If it fails this year, we’ll come back again next year.  We’ve got a lot of patience.  It’ll be my fourth year and maybe Ray’s second year on the bill and we’ll just do it

And Steve Augello, whose daughter died because of a texting driver, vows he also will be ready to do it again.