After more than a decade of talk, a text ban appears certainby John Kennedy | April 16th, 2013
Without much fanfare, the Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would make it illegal to text-while-driving – positioning Florida to pass its first measure cracking-down on smartphone use behind the wheel after more than a decade of failed proposals.
“This bill is long overdue,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale.
The legislation (CS/SB 52) cleared the Senate 36-0. Sponsor Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has been pushing the proposal for four years but had run into a wall in the House, where former Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, refused to allow the measure heard.
Detert on Tuesday praised new House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, for letting House members this spring “to have a voice.”
The House is expected to approve the legislation this week, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott, who has indicated he will allow it to become law.
The measure would make texting while driving a secondary offense. Motorists could be ticketed only if law enforcement officials stopped them for another reason.
A ticket could cost first-time offenders $30, plus court costs. But the bill includes exemptions allowing people to use phones to check maps, use voice-commands or listen to the radio through their phones.
Drivers also could text while stopped at a light, under the legislation. Talking on a cell phone would not be restricted.
But new research by economists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee challenges whether a proposal like Florida’s will do much to discourage texting while driving.
Analyzing traffic fatality data from 2007-2010, Scott Adams and colleague Rahi Abouk found law enforcement officials have a difficult time distinguishing drivers who are texting illegally and those who are legally talking on a cell phone while driving.
When drivers are allowed to use their phones, attempting to make a specific kind of phone use illegal – like texting – makes enforcement virtually impossible, the economists concluded.
Even in the 10 states where the use of hand-helds is a primary traffic offense, including Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, heightened law enforcement is needed to maintain the prohibition’s potential to reduce accidents, the researchers found. Florida would become the 40th state to prohibit all drivers from texting.
“There has to be some fear to this, or it’s no deterrent,” Adams told The Palm Beach Post.