Florida lawmaker wants tougher texting while driving law

Miami HeraldOctober 1, 2013 

On the first day of Florida’s new law banning texting while driving, state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, will hold a press conference to announce that she plans to file a bill to strengthen the state law.

Sachs will hold the press conference at AutoNation in Fort Lauderdale at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

It took about five years for Florida to pass a texting and driving ban that some traffic safety experts have criticized as weak, raising questions about the chances of strengthening the ban just one year later.

In Sachs’ favor is the fact that the texting ban ultimately passed overwhelmingly: 39-1 in the Senate and 110-6 in the House.

The texting law that went into effect Tuesday does not allow police to pull over a driver solely for texting — officers need to witness another violation, such as running a stop sign. Then, police can add on driving while texting as a secondary violation. The penalty is $30 plus court costs for a first offense and then doubles for the second offense.

Sachs’ bill, which she plans to unveil Tuesday, would make texting while driving a primary offense. The penalties would remain the same, but law enforcement could simply pull over drivers for texting without spotting other potential violations.

Florida is the 41st state to enact such a ban but the majority view texting while driving as a primary violation. In Florida, drivers can continue to text at a red light or use a talk-to-text device.

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $1 million to promote the ban, but there have been some measures to promote it such as message boards on highways, school campaigns and events such as Sachs’ press conference.

AT&T, which has a driving while texting simulator, is holding several events in Florida to promote the new law.

AT&T will partner with The Dori Slosberg Foundation to host an event with the simulator at Deerfield beach High School on Wednesday. Dori is the late daughter of State Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who died in a car crash in 1996 when she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

In 2012, texting contributed to at least 189 crashes in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But that number could be under-reported since texting while driving wasn’t illegal last year.

Sachs represents coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties. In 2012, she ran in one of the most expensive and high profile Senate contests in South Florida and beat Republican legislator Ellyn Bogdanoff.

Republican activists have targeted Sachs’ seat — she doesn’t officially have a challenger and has raised about $43,000.

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