The Florida Senate approved in a Monday meeting a bill that would ban texting while driving. This is the last committee the bill was referred to before it can be voted on by all Senate members.
Florida is one of five states without texting restrictions for drivers. This is the fourth year the issue has been presented.
“Hopefully, we’ve gone beyond public support into public frustration that we haven’t passed something,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, during the meeting. “I think this is the year, and I ask for your favorable support.”
The bill’s counterpart in the House passed in all three of its committees it was referred to. It is ready for a vote by all House members.
If passed, the proposed bills would go into effect Oct. 1 and would make the use of wireless communication devices while operating a motor vehicle a secondary offense.
This means a driver must first be pulled over for a different offense before being cited for texting while driving.
Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, a member of the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities committee, voted in favor of her chamber’s bill during the March 6 vote. She said the sponsors of the bill are probably more comfortable getting the bill passed as a secondary offense.
She said once people see how the law works and what the results are, they will be more accepting of it being a primary offense.
The first violation of the proposed law will result in a $30 fine and court costs. This is considered a non-moving violation, or a violation for a vehicle not in motion.
If caught for the same violation within the next five years, the offender will be cited for a moving violation. This results in a $60 fine and three points on a driver’s license.
The usage bill of the device and testimony or statements from authorities with access to the bill can be used as evidence when determining if a violation occurred.
An additional penalty of six points will be added if the driver causes a car crash. If caught texting in a school zone with a moving violation, two points will be added as well.
The legislative bills define the use of a wireless communication device as manually typing, sending or reading a message. A wireless communication device is any handheld device that can send and receive messages, store data and connect to the Internet.
There are seven exceptions, including using a device for navigation purposes or to report an emergency.
Based on the Senate bill’s text as of April 6, the bill does not apply to a driver stopped at a traffic light. It also doesn’t apply when speaking into an application, such as iPhone’s Siri, to send out a message, Hukill said.
The bill had no amendments regarding these two exceptions April 8.
She said although the bill does provide law enforcement with a tool to prevent texting and driving, education is the most important resource in any safety issue.
“The case is how do you get the word out,” said Hukill, “and then how do you encourage people to comply with the law cause that’s the most effective thing.”
A poll conducted by the University of Florida found that 95 percent of respondents are in support of state legislation that bans texting while driving.
Results of the poll, led by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and the UF Bureau of Economic and Business Research, were based on 371 surveys conducted through random digit dialing of Florida landline phones. It ran from March 1-17.
AT&T also performed a poll in collaboration with ResearchNow. Poll results showed 98 percent of respondents believed sending a text or email while driving is dangerous but 49 percent of commuters admitted to doing so.
Emma Humphries, assistant in citizenship for the Bob Graham Center, said she found the results of both polls interesting.
“It tells us that people know it’s unsafe, but they’re not going to change their behavior until its illegal,” she said.