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Fla. prepares to crack down on texting drivers

Posted by Editor on May 2, 2019
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Florida lawmakers put some teeth in the state’s texting while driving ban Monday, finalizing legislation that allows law enforcement to pull over drivers solely for texting.

The bill now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has voiced support for the proposal. It would make texting while driving a primary offense instead of a secondary offense and requires drivers to go totally hands free when operating wireless communications devices in school zones and in construction zones when workers are present.

The Florida House passed the legislation Monday after reaching a deal with the Senate, which had proposed a broader hands-free bill.

“It took some compromise to get it done,” House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said Monday.

The texting bill cleared the House 108-7 Monday after passing the Senate 33-5 last week.

“Hands free is where we should be,” Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said when the bill cleared the Senate. “Many, many lives will be saved by the texting and driving bill; many more lives would be saved by a hands-free bill.”

But getting texting while driving designated a primary offense – Florida would become the 44th state to do so – is still a major accomplishment for driving safety advocates, who have been working on the legislation for years.

Texting while driving already is illegal in Florida but officers only can cite someone for the infraction if that person is pulled over for another offense. The legislation passed Monday allows law enforcement to target drivers just for texting.

The penalty for a first offense would be $30 plus court costs. A second offense within five years would result in a $60 penalty plus court costs and three points on the driver’s license. A crash resulting from texting would result in six points on a driver’s license.

Drivers who rack up a lot of points can have their license suspended.

When it comes to school zones and construction zones, drivers could be ticketed for using any wireless communication device – including cell phones, laptops, tablets and gaming devices – “in a handheld manner.”

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The bill requires officers to issue verbal warnings for hands-free violations through the end of the year. It also allows court clerks to dismiss a first offense if a driver provides proof that they have purchased “equipment that enables his or her personal wireless communications device to be used in hands-free manner.”

Supporters of the legislation have pointed to the proliferation of crashes stemming from distracted driving. A number of lawmakers have shared personal crash stories.

Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, told lawmakers about her twin sister, Dori, dying when the car they both were riding in was involved in a distracted driving crash.

Slosberg helped shepherd the texting bill through the Legislature this year.

“It’s what we do after a tragedy that determines whether it remains just a tragedy,” Slosberg said Monday. “And I am certain that I have not let Dori’s death just remain a tragedy. We’re going to save lives by this legislation.”

The bill encountered resistance from some lawmakers who worry it would give police a pretext to stop African-American drivers.

The concerns about racial profiling led to a provision in the bill that requires law enforcement officers to report the race of anyone cited for texting while driving. That data can then be analyzed to determine if African-American drivers are being targeted.

© 2019 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla., Zac Anderson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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