TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Drivers would be banned from manually typing or reading texts, emails or other electronic messages while operating a car under legislation filed in the Senate Tuesday.
The measure (SB 52), filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, calls for the offense to be what is known as a "secondary offense," meaning officers could only ticket people for texting while driving if they've stopped them for some other traffic violation. That is, if a police officer sees someone texting they wouldn't be able to pull them over – but if they see someone speeding and texting, they could tack on extra charges for texting in addition to the speeding penalty.
Drivers would still be able to read navigational devices or electronic maps without incurring a penalty under the proposal. Reading weather alerts or other safety-related information would also be exempt, as would using a hands-free voice-recognition application.
Texting while driving would be a nonmoving violation, punishable by a $30 fine, under the bill.
Lawmakers will be in full session in March, but bills can be filed now and committee meetings on proposed legislation start Dec. 3. Detert's was among the first measures in the Senate to emerge from bill drafting for the coming year.
The National Transportation Safety Board has urged Florida and other states to ban the use of cell phones for texting or talking while driving. The NTSB said last year that distracted driving, some of it due to cell phone use, contributed to nearly 4,000 highway deaths a year, citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. About a quarter of American drivers admit they sometimes text and drive. The issue is on the NTSB's "most wanted" list for changes in transportation safety nationwide.
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, Florida is one of only five states without some sort of ban on texting while driving. The others are Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and South Carolina.
Detert has sponsored the proposal in at least the past two previous years with no success, despite generally bipartisan support.
The idea has generally been met with opposition from Libertarian-leaning lawmakers from rural areas who have a philosophical aversion to government imposing additional safety laws. It has also been opposed by some minority legislators, who fear giving police additional reasons to target drivers because of concerns about racial profiling – though Detert's bill wouldn't allow police to proactively pull drivers over just for texting.
Two legislators who in the past have held the legislation up in committee – former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff in the Senate and former Rep. Brad Drake in the House – are no longer in the Legislature.
Ten states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia — and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held phone use by all drivers.
Several other states, including Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Florida's neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia, have a primary enforcement ban on texting while driving. Some states, such as Texas, have a texting ban just for younger drivers.
Detert's bill is yet to be referred to committee.
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