Politics
6:00 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Technically, There's Nothing Stopping You From Texting And Driving In Florida – Yet

Florida is one of only 11 states that doesn't prohibit texting and driving. But drivers whose texting leads to an accident and death would be guilty of homicide under a bill filed this week in the Senate and expected to soon show up in the House.
Credit poka0059 / Flickr

After several failed bills and a decade’s worth of debate, texting and driving remains legal in Florida – and the most recently proposed bill wouldn’t change that. But drivers could be charged with vehicular homicide in the case of an accident.

According to the News Service of Florida,

Drivers whose texting leads to an accident and death would be guilty of homicide under a bill filed this week in the Senate and expected to soon show up in the House. Drivers whose texting led to death could be charged with vehicular homicide, a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail under a proposal (SB 708) filed this week by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando. Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, is expected to file a companion measure in the House. The bills are among a handful of efforts to reduce the use of wireless communications by motorists. Florida is one of a few states that have not adopted restrictions against texting while driving – even when death occurs as a result.

Even if the bill, endorsed by the Senate Transportation Committee, translates to law, it wouldn't change the fact that Florida is one of only 11 states that doesn’t prohibit texting and driving.

However, this is also up for review. Several bills seeking to ban the combo will be considered for the 2013 session, which begins in March. According to The Palm Beach Post, at least three have already been introduced:

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, have proposed identical measures (SB 52, HB 13) that would make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning motorists could be ticketed only if law-enforcement officials had stopped them for another reason.

A ticket could cost first-time offenders $30, plus court costs. But the bills also include exemptions allowing people to use phones to check maps, use voice-commands or listen to the radio through the phone.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is sponsoring legislation (SB 74) that would make texting or using a cellphone without a hands-free device a primary offense for motorists.

Sachs defeated Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale in November in the legislature’s only matchup of incumbent lawmakers. Bogdanoff had blocked a texting ban from being heard by the full Senate in 2010.

Sachs said her legislation will save lives, reduce injuries and protect property.

“I think we will get behind whatever turns out to be the best of all the bills,” Sachs said. “It may mean that this is the year we finally get smart.”

The story also notes the following:

Some kind of ban on hand-held devices behind the wheel – usually aimed at minors – has been proposed in every regular session of the Florida Legislature since 2002.

That’s right – every regular session of the Florida Legislature since 2002. With all the ubiquitous research citing the hazards of the infamous duo, what makes this initiative so difficult to pass?

The Miami Herald suggests the following:

The idea has generally been met with opposition from Libertarian-leaning lawmakers from rural areas who have a philosophical aversion to government imposing additional safety laws. It has also been opposed by some minority legislators, who fear giving police additional reasons to target drivers because of concerns about racial profiling – though Detert’s bill wouldn’t allow police to proactively pull drivers over just for texting.

Two legislators who in the past have held the legislation up in committee – former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff in the Senate and former Rep. Brad Drake in the House – are no longer in the Legislature.

Check out what members of the Public Insight Network have to say about what it’s like to drive in Florida.