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Texting-While-Driving Ban Headed For Fla. House Vote

Jessica Palombo

A bill that would ban texting while driving is heading to the House floor after passing its final committee on Wednesday. The bill and its Senate companion have bipartisan sponsorship.

Ninety-five percent of Floridians support the ban on texting while driving. That’s according to a poll from the University of Florida.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota), presented the texting ban at its final committee stop, the House Economic Affairs Committee. He said, “I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve been in this process for seven years, and I’ve never heard of something that has that much support from your constituents and mine.”

The measure would make texting a secondary offense, meaning you’d have to be pulled over for something else, like speeding, and then police could also issue a $30 ticket for using a hand-held communication device. Florida is one of just five states that don’t ban texting on the road.

“We’re talking about an activity that is equivalent to drinking four beers very quickly and then getting behind the wheel of a car. We all know the dangers of that and we have laws against that,” Holder said.

Even though texting would still not be a primary offense, meaning you could not be pulled over just for texting, Holder says, he believes the bill does go far enough.

“It starts the campaign that tells our children, tells our parents that texting while driving is an inappropriate behavior and is illegal in the state of Florida. And I believe that once we do that, with a PR campaign right behind it, we will change the way our culture thinks about those activities,” he said.

The House and Senate versions of the bill have passed a combined five committees, with the only “No” vote coming on Wednesday from Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City). Patronis said he fears “creating another reason why we have more government intruding in our lives.”

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Delray Beach) spoke outside the House chambers on Wednesday.

“It’s just amazing that it’s such a battle for public safety, but it is a battle for public safety,” he said.

After his teenage daughter was killed in a car crash, Slosberg spent 20 years trying to get the law changed to require people to wear seatbelts.  But he said, now it’s a new day in Florida under House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel).

“They’re bringing the bills out of the drawers and they’re saying, ‘Let it be heard.’ And it’s more of a bipartisan atmosphere in the House today than it was in years past,” Slosberg said.

He was surrounded by children who attend school online through the Florida Virtual School. They’re supporting the bill with a campaign called TTYL, or Texting Takes Young Lives.

Seventeen-year-old Virtual School student Jenny Ruben said, “It’s a given. It’s common sense. Let’s outlaw texting and driving. I’ve been in fear of my life when I’m behind the wheel. People do not get how absolutely serious this is.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 28 percent of accidents occur when people are using their phone. Rep. Dave Kerner (D-Palm Springs), another co-sponsor of the bill, said he saw the effects first-hand in his former job as a police officer in the rural city of Alachua.

“It was so frustrating to show up to traffic crashes. It was so frustrating and sad to see people driving down the road texting. And me, as a law enforcement officer, I couldn’t do anything about it,” Kerner said.

Holder said, now is the time for Florida to give them that power. He said, he and his wife were watching a news report about five young girls who were texting while driving when they crashed into a tractor-trailer, killing all of them.

He said, “My wife turned to me and said, ‘You know, Doug, I’m not a very political person. But if there’s one thing that you do while you’re in Tallahassee, you’ve got to ban texting while driving.’”

The bill has exceptions, like allowing the use of “talk-to-text” technology, reporting emergencies, and allowing texting while a car is stopped, like at a red light.

It heads now to the full House.  Meanwhile, the Senate version has one more committee stop.