TALLAHASSEE — Texting while driving in most cases would be illegal in Florida under a bill passed Tuesday by the Senate and sent to the House.
The measure has some exceptions that would allow drivers to text or email while stopped, such as at a red light.
The bill (SB 52) would make the infraction a secondary offense, meaning police officers would have to stop drivers for something else before ticketing them for sending or reading texts or emails while operating their car.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously, a remarkable amount of support for a measure that while proposed in recent years had never gotten through a Senate committee.
Its sponsor, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said the bill has overwhelming support among the public, and noted that Florida is one of only five U.S. states that doesn’t have some sort of ban on texting while driving.
“We lose about 11 teenagers a day (nationally) thanks to texting while driving,” Detert said.
“This bill is long overdue. We’ve lost too many young people, and too many people in general on the streets of Florida,” added Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said she voted in favor of the ban throughout the committee process and said she decided to support the bill as “a reflection of a desire for definitive action.”
“It is time we had a policy to point to,” she said.
Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said he too supported the bill so that the state can have a law on the books to protect drivers.
Richter said he thinks one of the greatest improvements to come out of the bill is the fact that teenagers who aren’t yet old enough to drive will know “they will not be allowed to text” and drive when they turn 16 and get behind the wheel.
A penalty for a first violation of the prohibition would be a $30 fine, plus court costs that vary around the state. A second violation within five years of the first would result in three points on the driver’s record plus a $60 fine plus court fees.
The bill is backed by AAA.
“In the last three years alone, more than half of all states have enacted text messaging bans for all drivers,” said Kevin Bakewell, vice president of the auto club. “AAA is encouraged by the recent and rapid progress toward our national campaign goal of passing texting bans in all 50 states.”
A similar bill (HB 13) also has moved through the House this year, in contrast to previous years when it was bottled up in committee. The House bill is on the floor calendar for that chamber.
The ban isn’t a done deal yet. It still needs to go through the state House for discussion and a vote.
Benacquisto and Richter each said they’re hopeful their counterparts in the House will approve the ban and send it to the governor.
“It is a good common-sense law,” Richter said. “We hope the House will take it up and send it to the governor.”
Thinking about sending a text while behind the wheel? Think again.
The state Senate on Tuesday morning approved a measure that would ban texting while driving. The measure – dubbed the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving – was approved 36-0.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, both voted for the ban.
The bill was immediately certified and is now headed to the state House.