Measure filed to ban texting and driving in Florida

In this 2011 file photo, texting while driving increased 50 percent last year and two out of 10 drivers say they've sent text messages or emails while behind the wheel despite a rush by states to ban the practice, said the National Traffic Safety Administration. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

In this 2011 file photo, texting while driving increased 50 percent last year and two out of 10 drivers say they've sent text messages or emails while behind the wheel despite a rush by states to ban the practice, said the National Traffic Safety Administration. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

Sen. Nancy Detert

Sen. Nancy Detert

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TALLAHASSEE — Drivers would be banned from manually typing or reading texts, emails or other electronic messages while operating a car under legislation filed in the Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 52 filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, calls for the offense to be a “secondary offense,” meaning officers could only ticket people for texting while driving if they’ve stopped them for some other traffic violation.

Drivers would still be able to read navigational devices or electronic maps without incurring a penalty under the proposal. Reading weather alerts or other safety-related information would also be exempt, as would using a hands-free voice-recognition application.

Texting while driving would be a nonmoving violation, punishable by a $30 fine, under the bill.

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she remembered earlier versions of the bill losing steam because of the perception that a law would be hard to enforce. She still was trying to familiarize herself with the newest version.

Recalling a crash in which both drivers were using their phones, Passidomo said “that to me is a double tragedy that if we can prevent, we should prevent.”

“The concept is certainly something we do need to look into, particularly for our young people that are texting,” she said.

Other local legislators were less keen on the idea. Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, said drivers should take personal responsibility for what they do behind the wheel, arguing that creating a social stigma against texting and driving would be more effective than making it a state violation.

“The question is, are we here to write laws to pursue safety or just feel good?” Caldwell said. “The goal is to change behavior … and until people see it as a danger, people are going to keep doing it.”

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, a longtime supporter of legislation to ban texting and driving, said he would support “any measure that will make our roads safer.”

“The fact is,” he said, “that there is no way to safely text message while operating a vehicle.”

Lawmakers will be in full session in March, but bills can be filed now and committee meetings on proposed legislation start Dec. 3. Detert’s was among the first measures in the Senate to emerge from bill drafting for the coming year.

The National Transportation Safety Board has urged Florida and other states to ban the use of cell phones for texting or talking while driving. The NTSB said last year that distracted driving, some of it due to cell phone use, contributed to nearly 4,000 highway deaths a year, citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

Florida is one of only five states without some sort of ban on texting while driving, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. The others are Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and South Carolina.

Detert has sponsored the proposal in at least the past two previous years with no success, despite generally bipartisan support.

The idea has generally been met with opposition from libertarian-leaning lawmakers from rural areas who have a philosophical aversion to government imposing additional safety laws. It has also been opposed by some minority legislators, who fear giving police additional reasons to target drivers because of concerns about racial profiling – though Detert’s bill wouldn’t allow police to proactively pull drivers over just for texting.

Two legislators who in the past have held the legislation up in committee – former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff in the Senate and former Rep. Brad Drake in the House – are no longer in the Legislature.

Detert’s bill is yet to be referred to committee.

Staff writer Jessica Lipscomb contributed to this report.

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