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Upgrade To Florida's Texting While Driving Law Passes First House Committee

MGN Online

A bill making texting while driving a primary offense passed its first committee Tuesday. It also drew some concerns.

Kelly Maere says she’s seen the damage distracted driving can have on a life.

“My friend Anthony Branca lost his life to a distracted driver in 2014,” she said. “He is missed dearly to those who knew him, and his death serves as a grim reminder of the damage distracted driver creates when left unchecked by its community and its government.”

That’s why she says upgrading Florida’s texting while driving law is important. Currently, it’s a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to pulled over for something else first, like not wearing a seatbelt.

That bill is sponsored by Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton), who’s sponsored several driving safety bills.

“As a victim, who was almost killed in a car crash and who lost a twin sister in a car crash, I don’t want another family to go through what my family went through,”. According to a recent study, 92 percent of us drive and text in the last 30 days. Everybody does it. It’s a culture on our roadways. It’s socially acceptable. But, it’s time that the legislature sends a message that this is no longer acceptable behavior on our roads.”

It’s also sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa).

“This bill establishes a proper balance between safety and law enforcement and our cherished liberties,” she said. The goal is safer streets, not greater conflict. As a mother of 5, this is very important to me and to the safety of all of our children, on and off the road.”

Still, the legislation is drawing some concerns. Some lawmakers wonder if people could still use their phones as a GPS and if law enforcement would be able to tell the difference.

Others, like Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg), are on the fence about what this could mean for law enforcement officers who pull people of color over.

“It’s more about profiling and having an opportunity to pull people over already,” he said. “As you know, people of color have had bad incidences when being pulled over, ultimately some of them end up dead or shot when they have interactions with law enforcement. And, no, I’m not blaming law enforcement, but I’m just saying, will this create more opportunity for that in essence of profiling, if you will?”

But, William Smith says as a Florida trooper for more than 30 years in Miami-Dade, he doesn’t look at color when he’s making a traffic stop. He's also the President of the Florida Highway Patrol chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

“And, I ride a motor, which makes it a little easier for me to look into cars, than it is for somebody in a marked unit, and I have written several—not a lot—but several under the current law, which requires it as a secondary,” said Smith. “It is difficult, but it’s a little easier for myself and other motormen…me personally, it’s about what they’re doing wrong, not who they are or whether they’re black, white, or Hispanic. It’s what they’re doing wrong. That’s what I look at.”

The measure has two more stops to go, before it heads to the House floor. And, with the backing of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, it has a better chance of passing in the 2018 legislative session.  Meanwhile, its Senate companion has already passed its first committee and will be taken up in another Wednesday.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.