State Politics

Legislation pushed by Manatee resident for driver emergency contact information heads to governor's desk

MANATEE -- It took Christine Olson six hours to find out her daughter had died in a motorcycle accident in 2005, and after nine years of work she finally saw legislation to ensure it won't happen to anyone else in Florida.

Tiffiany Olson was only 22 when she was killed in a crash while riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend in Manatee County. Law enforcement took the then-typical path and went to the current address listed on her license to inform the family, but the address listed on Tiffiany Olson's license was not current.

"She didn't have her purse or anything on her, only her driver's license," said Christine Olson, Tiffiany's mother.

Christine Olson pushed to change the process, getting legislation passed in 2006 that tied emergency contact information to licenses. Officers could swipe licenses and see people's emergency contact, if the owner of the license had filled out that information.

And there was the crux: People needed to sign up and know how something so simple could give them peace of mind, Olson said. Currently, nine years after the legislation passed, about 10 million Floridians have taken advantage of the program out of the 17.2 million Floridians with IDs. Olson wanted to close that gap.

"It takes two minutes, and it gives loved ones so much peace of mind," Olson said.

So Olson worked with Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to make emergency contact registration part of the process when signing up for a license or vehicle registration. The legislation passed by both the House and the Senate and now headed to the governor's desk would require employees of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to inform all applicants of the emergency contact option.

"Now, this will be part of the script," Olson said. "They'll offer it to every single person. I hope it will mean a lot more people get registered."

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said it was one of the first programs he took up when he was elected sheriff, because it greatly helps his deputies. Sometimes law enforcement can't find victims' next of kin easily and end up using a lot of time and manpower to track family members down. This program puts that information right into systems they already use.

"You can spend a number of hours and into days looking for next of kin," Steube said. "There was a case recently where we couldn't find anything in our system and we eventually tracked family members down to Texas, where we had to have law enforcement there go knock on the door. It took a while."

Florida was the first state to implement the program, but Olson said other states, including Ohio, Colorado, Illinois and New Jersey, have followed suit.

Olson said she doesn't want anybody to wonder why their loved one hasn't shown up to dinner for six hours, like she did. And with prom coming up, she said she hopes this program will be used to give nervous parents some reassurance.

"I miss her ," Olson said. "I'm so happy I could cry."

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