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Senate committee gives green light to texting ban

by John Kennedy | April 8th, 2013

Legislation that would make Florida the 40th state in the nation to ban texting while driving was approved Monday by a Senate committee, with the full House expected to follow suit later this week.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, sponsor of the measure (CS/SB 52) that cleared the Judiciary Committee on an 8-0 vote, said it’s taken lawmakers years to come around to restrictions long supported by the public.

“The public is ahead of the politicians,” said Detert. “The big change in the politicians is every time they go home people say, ‘how come we never pass that texting-while-driving bill?’ It’s gone from public support to public frustration. They’re as frustrated as I am.”

Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, have proposed identical measures (SB 52, HB 13) that would make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning motorists could be ticketed only if law-enforcement officials had stopped them for another reason.

A ticket could cost first-time offenders $30, plus court costs. But the bills also include exemptions allowing people to use phones to check maps, use voice-commands or listen to the radio through the phone. Drivers also could text while stopped at a light, under the legislation.

“It’s pretty clear this will save lives if we pass it,” said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee.

The Senate has advanced Detert’s bill in earlier years. But the proposed ban has been rejected by Florida’s more conservative House. The past two years, then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, refused to let the measure be heard in committees.

Current House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has torn down the roadblock.

“New leadership in the House has been very important,” Detert said. “They’ve been held mute all these years, and now they’re allowed to express their opinion.”

AAA Auto Club South says a survey it commissioned shows 87 percent of motorists support laws prohibiting texting or emailing while driving.

Still, the same survey showed that 69 percent of Americans acknowledge talking on their cellphones while driving within the past 30 days, while 24 percent say they have sent texts or emails.

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