Could next year be the year Florida finally bans texting while driving?
Could it be the year utterly sensible tax-ban legislation makes it through both the House and the Senate?
Could it be that Gov. Rick Scott actually signs it into law?
And that Florida’s roads are a little safer?
Signs are pointing to a “yes.”
Rep. Doug Holder, is picking up the House side of a bill offered by Sen. Nancy Detert, for the past two years. It is a simple, straightforward bill that states:
“A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data in such a device for the purpose of non-voice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to communication methods known as texting, emailing and instant messaging.”
Got that? In other words, no typing on a cellphone, iPhone, smart phone, iPad, whatever, while you’re behind the wheel of a car.
Sound harsh? Hardly.
The fact is the bill would make texting a secondary offense, meaning police would need another, primary reason to pull someone over before giving them a ticket for texting. A first-time offender would be fined $30 for a non-moving violation; a second offense within five years would cost $60. No points on the license. And there are even exceptions for GPS devices, for emergency workers and for anyone simply reading cell phone messages. In short, the law bans the action of typing only.
You’d think, especially considering an AAA study found 95 percent of American motorists thought texting — apparently other people’s texting — threatened their personal safety. Thirty-nine states already ban texting for all drivers; another five impose a ban on “novice” drivers.
A slam dunk? Not so fast.
Strange things happen in the State House. Two years ago, Detert’s bill passed the Senate 34-4. It moved to the House and disappeared. This past year, it suffered a similar fate. The bill won 20-1 approval in the Senate Budget Committee. But, again, it was doomed by problems on the House side.
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a powerful committee chairman, was dead-set against it. House Speaker Dean Cannon didn’t like it either: At one point, he told the Tampa Bay Times, “I’ve got personal liberties concerns.”
So RIP texting bill.
The good news is those two House members are gone. Longtime legislator Detert should have more clout. And Holder’s standing has increased in the House; he is reportedly tight with new Speaker Will Weatherford.
So maybe this time, it may get done. We hope so. We’ll skip the statistics that demonstrate just how dangerous texting-while-driving can be. We won’t harp on the fact that younger people are growing up with an all-text-all-the-time mindset. A state driving-while-texting ban may not stop the behavior, but it will discourage it.
Texting while driving is distracted driving. It is dangerous. Let’s get this law on the books.