Florida Senate budget panel OKs texting-while-driving ban

Associated PressFebruary 22, 2012 

TALLAHASSEE A statewide texting-while-driving ban bill that has eluded passage for several years cleared the Senate’s budget panel on Tuesday.

The Budget Committee unanimously voted for the bill (SB 416) that already has made it through three previous Senate panels with just two votes against it. Several interest groups, including AAA and Florida Sheriffs Association, support the bill.

It goes to the floor of the Senate for final passage. Supporters worry it won’t become law because the House version (HB 299) hasn’t moved. Leaders there liken it to needless government intrusion into people’s lives.

“It’s difficult to legislate every kind of human behavior and then try and enforce it,” said Rep. Brad Drake, who chairs the House’s highway safety subcommittee. “People just need to be responsible for themselves.”

House Speaker Dean Cannon has also opposed the bill.

Sen. Nancy Detert, a Republican from Venice, expressed her frustration Tuesday about the measure’s lack of progress in the House. “I think it makes complete sense to 98 percent of Floridians and the other two percent are in the House of Representatives, I guess,” she said.

“The statistics prove that we’re right on this and now there’s more teenage problems,” she explained. “Teenage accidents and deaths due to texting are up like 10 percent nationwide but 66 percent in Florida because we’ve got a lethal combination going here. We’ve got a lot of new drivers on the road ... Then we have a lot of elderly drivers and we have a lot of tourists who are unsure of where they’re going. So it makes for bad combination.

“I’m going to continue to do the bill until people catch up with our thinking. I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Detert said.

The proposal would outlaw texting by all drivers operating motor vehicles. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia already have bans.

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a proponent of fewer regulations and limited government, has previously said he hasn’t taken a position on a ban.

The proposed law makes texting subject to secondary enforcement, meaning police could cite drivers for it only if they had been pulled over for another violation such as speeding. A first violation would be a $30 fine; a second within five years would be $60.

And if texting resulted in a crash, the driver would be assessed six points 12 points within a year leads to a 30-day driver’s license suspension. Points lead to increased insurance rates.

A recent change to the Senate bill also adds two points to a person’s driving record if he or she is caught in a school safety zone.

The federal government says a texting driver is 23 times more likely to crash than one not texting. A study by AAA puts the figure lower at six times.

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