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Florida May Be Next State to Put the Brakes on Texting While Driving

by Jana Ritter - Published: 4/03/2013

On Wednesday Florida lawmakers got one step closer to a statewide ban on texting while driving. The House Economics Affair committee cleared a bill (HB 13) by a 16-1 vote that would make texting while driving a secondary offense.  This means police have to first stop drivers for another offense, such as speeding and include the texting while driving violation as an additional charge.

Texting

A first violation is a $30 fine, a second or subsequent violation within five years adds three points to the driver's license and a $60 fine. If texting while driving is found to be at fault in a crash, it would add six points to the driver's records and points lead to increased insurance rates. The state plans to implement additional penalties for driving while texting in a school zone.

Already, text messaging is banned for all drivers in 39 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Only novice drivers are banned from texting in Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas, and school bus drivers are banned from text messaging in 3 states (Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas). Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is banned in 10 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia. The use of all cell phones by novice drivers is restricted in 34 states and the District of Columbia and the use of all cell phones while driving a school bus is prohibited in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Many localities have enacted their own bans on cell phones or text messaging. In some but not all states, local jurisdictions need specific statutory authority to do so.

According to a preliminary report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 256,443 reported crashes in 2012. In 4,841 of those crashes, a driver had been texting or otherwise using an "electronic communication device" while driving. The FMCSA (which regulates the trucking industry) says that drivers who text, take their eyes off the road for almost 5 seconds. At 55 mph, a driver can cross the equivalent of a football field while not looking.

Texting while driving is "equivalent to drinking four beers very quickly and getting behind the wheel of a car," said Rep. Doug Holder, the Venice, Florida Republican sponsoring the bill. "We're losing people every single day because they're texting while driving and they're distracted while driving."

Ironically, efforts to pass a ban have stalled for years based on Republican concerns about government intrusion into people's lives. The House bill next goes to the floor. A companion bill (SB 52) also is moving toward the full Senate. The ban includes typing a text or reading a text while driving. It includes tablet computers as well as mobile phones, but excludes using a "talk-to-text" feature. It would also allow texting while stopped at a red light. The ban is supported by AT&T, the AARP, AAA, trial lawyers, businesses and state law enforcement groups.