TALLAHASSEE -- A bill to limit texting while driving appears finally to have momentum in the Florida House, after years of proposals stalling out.
On Thursday, Rep. Doug Holder's bill to make texting while driving a secondary offense passed unanimously out of a House transportation subcommittee. It was the first time Holder's texting bill had been heard in a House committee in five years.
While the bill, HB 13, has more committees to clear, supporters called the vote a first, big step. Florida is one of only five states without any type of texting while driving restriction.
"It's tremendous," said Holder, a Republican from Sarasota who is sponsoring the measure with Rep. Ray Pilon, a fellow Republican from Sarasota.
It was the second victory in two days for legislators, law enforcement, businesses and safety advocates fighting for a texting-while-driving law. The Senate version of the bill, SB 52, won unanimous approval in its second committee meeting Wednesday.
Holder and Senate sponsor Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, have both credited House Speaker Will Weatherford for allowing the bill to be heard in the House.
The bills proposed by Detert, Holder and Pilon would make texting while driving a secondary offense, which means a motorist would have to commit another violation, such as careless driving, in order to be pulled over. Once stopped, a driver could receive two tickets, one for the infraction and one for texting.
The fine would be $30 for a first-time texting offense, $60 if it occurs again within five years, with more points added if the violation is in a school zone. Texting would be allowed in hands-off high-tech cars and when a car is stopped at a red light or in a traffic jam.
"Is this the bill the best bill in the world for texting and driving? No," said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who voted for the bill Thursday. "However in the Florida Legislature it has to go slowly when it comes to road safety bills. This will take a bite out of the apple and next year hopefully we'll enhance this."
Holder said it's important to retrain attitudes toward texting while driving, the way attitudes changed toward seat belt use. "The most important part of this whole thing is to be able to empower parents and drivers' ed teachers to tell their students and children that texting while driving in Florida is illegal," he said.
Keyna Cory, a lobbyist for the National Solid Wastes Management Association who has organized a coalition of more 20 law enforcement, businesses and advocacy groups that support the legislation, said there is a "motivated group" backing the legislation, including representatives of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, AAA, AT&T and the Florida PTA.
Holder said there hasn't been enough data to document how many crashes have involved texting in Florida, but said he thinks making the practice illegal would "substantially decrease," the number. More than 100,000 crashes a year involve drivers who are texting, according to the National Safety Council.
"At the end of the day, this is a no-brainer type of bill," Holder said. "This is an issue that has no lobbyists behind it, no money behind it. The only people who would benefit from this are the people."