While the texting while driving bill awaits action in the House, that chamber has passed legislation that would restrict drivers of commercial motor vehicles traveling interstate highways from talking or texting on hand-held phones while driving.
The measure gives the state teeth to enforce federal regulations that were approved in January 2012. The law applies to vehicles ranging from 18-wheelers to school buses run by private contractors. Technically a commercial vehicle has a “gross vehicle weight rating” or a weight of at least 10,000 pounds, transports more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation or more than 15 passengers (including the driver) who don’t pay anything.
The measure was an amendment to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles bill (HB 7125), which passed the House last week. It’s been sent to the Senate, which also has a highway safety bill with numerous amendment proposals, that's expected to be heard on the floor Tuesday.
“Not only are we penalizing the drivers if they’re texting and driving, we’re penalizing the companies. And the companies are behind us," says Rep. Irv Slosberg, a co-sponsor of the House bill.
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The first violation could carry a fine of $500 for a driver and $2,750 for employers who fail to require their drivers to comply. Third and subsequent violations could cost drivers as much as a $2,750 fine and a 120-day commercial driver license disqualification and a fine of up to $11,000 for an employer.
The bill doesn’t restrict the use of Bluetooth or other devices that aren’t hand-held. It exempts government employees and allows truckers to use a cellphone when pulled to the side or off the highway.
Trucking companies have been “proactively putting policies in place” to comply with the federal regulations, said Mary Lou Rajchel, president and CEO of the The Florida Trucking Association, which represents 400 trucking companies. The Association supports this bill, she said, along with legislation restricting texting while driving for all motorists, which is expected to be heard on the House floor Tuesday (it already passed the Senate).
Unlike SB 52, which makes texting while driving a secondary offense, the commercial vehicle measure makes talking or texting while driving a primary offense.
Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton, said he had been “pounding the table” to drive home the message that the state of Florida had to pass legislation to enforce federal guidelines. “It will spell out clearly what the federal law is,” he said, which will enable law enforcement to pull over violators, and "make the roads safer."