If a series of bills pass the Legislature this spring, Florida’s texting while driving law could hold more weight.
Two state representatives and one state senator have filed bills that would beef up existing legislation about using a cell phone while driving. Texting while driving would become a primary offense, as well as adding a penalty for drivers using their phones in a fatal crash, possibly even being considered vehicular homicide.“We have an epidemic across this country and in Florida of distracted driving and it’s getting worse. It’s a free-for-all out there, said Rep. Irving “Irv: Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.
Praise has come from across the state regarding the bills for enhancing existing statutes, but encourage further education to keep drivers safe on the roadways. “It is very difficult for officers to enforce Florida’s ban on texting while driving. There are a number of caveats written into the law that make exceptions for when a person can use a mobile device with the vehicle in motion,” wrote Cape Coral Police Sgt. Dana Coston in an email. “An officer has to be able to testify that the action they observed was not one of these exceptions.”
In 2012, Florida became the 41st state to enact texting legislature when the “Ban on Texting While Driving,” was passed by legislature.The law makes texting; using a cell-phone to send or read text message, a secondary offense, meaning that police do not have the authority to pull someone over for it. However a citation can be issued on top of another offense.
Other than texting at traffic lights, the law restricts texting while driving. The dilemma is that drivers can use their cell-phones for everything from GPS navigation to email to playing music. Even though a police officer may witness a driver on his or hers cell-phone, they have no way of verifying if they were texting due to the fact that they cannot obtain cell-phone data unless in a crash resulting in a death or serious injury.
Come 2015, several state legislators are taking aim at strengthening restrictions. Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston and Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge have introduced bills that would make texting while driving a primary offense. Stark’s bill would also add fines for texting while driving in a school zone.
This is step in the right direction, but the laws have to continue to evolve along with drivers self-policing their phone use. Slosberg’s other bill would add a criminal penalty for a driver who was using a cell phone during a fatal accident. As of now Florida does not have enhanced penalties for drivers using phones in accidents resulting in death, and that needs to change, he said.Just as the path of seatbelt laws have progressed, texting enforcement needs to follow. The real change, however, needs to come from a public perception standpoint.