Senate advances text-while-driving ban — on road to dead end in Houseby John Kennedy | January 26th, 2012
A push to ban texting-while-driving cleared a Senate budget panel Thursday, but it’s looking likely headed toward a dead end in the Florida House.
The measure (CS/SB 416) would make texting a secondary offense, allowing law enforcement to issue citations only if drivers were pulled over for another offense.
“I’m certainly not on infringing on anyone’s personal freedom, as long as it’s not affecting the person next to you,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who is sponsoring the legislation. “I’d like to get this done before there’s a tragedy where someone takes out all the kids at a bus stop and then the public is screaming, ‘Why didn’t you do something about it.’
“This is the opportunity to do something about it,” she said.
The proposal would impose a $30 fine for a first violation. A second offense within five years would force a $60 fine and 3 points added to a motorist’s license. Six points would be tacked on if using the device contributed to a crash.
Detert’s bill was approved 14-1 by the Senate’s budget subcommittee on transportation, tourism and economic development. The lone opponent was Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, who killed a similar texting proposal two years ago, while a House committee chair.
The House this year again looks poised to end talk of text bans. House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, told the Post last month that he was wary of adding “one more layer of prohibitive behavior,” in Florida.
At the time, Cannon said, “I’ve heard evidence that eating fast food, or men fixing their ties, or women fixing their makeup, or talking to screaming kids in the back of the van — as I’ve done from time to time — is just as distracting, perhaps more so, than sending someone a text message.”
The National Transportation Safety Board last month called for states to enact a ban on non-emergency phone calls and texting by all drivers. About 35 states ban text messaging while driving, 30 states ban cell-phone use by novice drivers, and 10 ban all use of hand-held phones, according to the NTSB.
But Cannon said he and many in Florida’s conservative, Republican-dominated Legislature are wary of steps aimed at “government-regulating private behavior.”
Some kind of ban on hand-held devices behind the wheel — usually aimed at minors — has been proposed in every regular session of the Florida Legislature since 2002. The bills have been filed by both Democrats and Republicans.
Last session, more than a dozen such bills were filed in Tallahassee — but none cleared the Legislature.
Detert said there are plenty of alternatives to texting behind the wheel. She uses a voice-to-text system for sending messages when driving. And her bill does nothing to restrict cell phone use, she added.
“I’ve tried to draw this bill as narrowly as we possibly can,” Detert said.