Distracted drivers beware: a bill making texting while driving a primary offense in Florida passed its first House committee on Tuesday.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee pushed HB 33, sponsored by Reps. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, through to its second of three committee stops by a unanimous vote.
Under HB 33, texting and driving would become a primary offense, which means Floridians could get pulled over if they’re found typing on their phones behind the wheel.
Texting and driving is currently a secondary offense in Florida, which means drivers have to be pulled over for breaking the law in other ways — like speeding or not wearing their seatbelts — to be whacked for texting and driving.
If the bill becomes law, Florida would become the 41st state in the country to ban texting and driving. State legislators have tried to pass the measure for years, but without much success.
In 2015, Florida saw over 45,000 distracted driving crashes, 39,000 of which resulted in injuries and 200 fatalities. The current fine for texting and driving is $30.
Rep. Slosberg has been advocating for driving safety for months and previously sponsored a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense for drivers 18 and under in school zones, but her fellow lawmakers did not approve the measure. Her connection to driving safety is personal as well — in 1996, she was injured and her twin sister was killed in a car crash when the driver was speeding.
Other Floridians whose family members’ lives were cut short by distracted drivers expressed concerns the legislation didn’t do enough to combat the growing problem of texting while driving.
According to the National Safety Council, one out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving, with cell phone use while driving leading to nearly 2 million crashes each year.
Drivers would still be able to use their phone for GPS and for calls, but would not be allowed to text while behind the wheel.
Slosberg acknowledged there was still more that could be done to promote driver safety, but said she felt confident Florida was at least starting on the path to safer roads and highways.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Slosberg said.
Groups supporting the legislation said they were glad legislators had decided to push it to the next committee.
“Too many drivers still text, talk, surf the web and use apps on smartphones while driving,” said Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) regional manager Logan McFaddin.
PCI is a member of FL DNT TXT N DRV Coalition, which includes a coalition of businesses, associations, law enforcement and local governments throughout the state who oppose texting while driving.
“The fact that Florida is one of many states experiencing double-digit spikes in distracted driving-related crashes and is only one of four states that hasn’t already made texting while driving a primary enforcement law is mind-boggling,” McFaddin continued.
Although lawmakers have failed to pass the measure over the years, the legislation has a strong likelihood of passing this year in part because of the support of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.
“Texting and driving presents a real, life-threatening danger to Floridians both on and off the road. The data is overwhelming and the need to act is equally compelling,” Corcoran said on the bill.