It will be interesting to track the progress of the first bill that has
been filed for the Florida House of Representatives to consider when it
convenes in March. The bill, H.B. 1, is aimed at deterring
texting while driving accidents in our state.
In particular, the bill would make texting while driving a primary offense
on our state's roads and double the fines for those who text while
driving in school zones. If enacted, it would take effect in October 2015.
"Real enforcement is making texting and driving at the same time a
primary offense," the bill's sponsor, State Rep. Rick Stark (D-Weston)
wrote last month in a letter to the editor in the
Miami Herald. "With this type of law, police can ticket drivers whom they see
Currently, texting while driving is a secondary traffic offense in Florida.
This means that police officers cannot pull over a driver for texting
and can only ticket a driver for the offense unless they are first stopped
for another traffic violation such as speeding or running a red light.
What Is the Best Legislative Approach to Texting While Driving?
Florida's texting law took effect in 2013 after a long struggle by
supporters to get the ban on the books. In fact, the
Orlando Sentinel reports that it took five legislative sessions due to heavy resistance
from lawmakers who feared the ban would be perceived as a governmental
intrusion on people's right to privacy.
However, according to
news reports, only about 1,500 tickets were issued statewide in the first year of the ban.
"We gave it a year as a secondary offense, and it really hasn't
worked that well," State Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) told the
Orlando Sentinel. "But it has at least started to bring in the idea
of a culture of safety."
Recent research lends support arguments in favor of making texting a primary
offense in Florida.
According to a study published earlier this year in the
American Journal of Public Health, states with primary texting bans in place have experienced a three percent
annual reduction in traffic fatalities, or 19 fewer deaths each year.
In contrast, states with a secondary ban in place have seen no significant
decrease in traffic fatalities, according to the study.
However, there is debate on whether Stark's proposed step of making
texting while driving a primary offense is the best way to get drivers
to put down their phones while driving.
One of Florida's most active lawmakers on traffic safety issues, State
Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) has suggested taking incremental steps instead.
He has filed bills that would, for now, make texting a primary offense
only in school zones and that would allow prosecutors to bring a second-degree
felony charge against any driver who kills someone in a texting accident.
Hopefully, lawmakers in the next session will take seriously all bills
that are filed that address this serious issue.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, about 3,000 people are killed each year in distracted driving
accidents, and an estimated 387,000 more people are injured.
As a state, we need to continually look at ways to eliminate texting while
driving and make our roads safer.