Bill Would Make Texting While Driving a Primary Offense in Florida

Bill Would Make Texting While Driving a Primary Offense in Florida

Posted By The Maher Law Firm || 24-Dec-2014

Distracted driving accidents Orlando

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 texting."

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.

As the 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.

Categories: Car Accidents
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