Ban on texting while driving clears first hurdle
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:03 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Nancy Detert says she wants her bill that would ban texting while driving to change the attitudes of Florida's next generation of drivers.
"Regardless of the particulars, the goal is to retrain our new drivers just as we did with seat belts," Detert told the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, shortly before the panel voted 9-0 Wednesday for her bill (SB 52).
"Younger people hop in the car, they put their seat belts on," said Detert, a Venice Republican. "Older people do not because we weren't trained that way."
But while Detert is hoping to shift attitudes statewide on texting and driving, a change in thinking among Florida House leaders may be the most significant development this year on the legislation, which has stalled in the Legislature since 2008.
For the first time in the past two years, a House panel will hold a hearing on a texting ban bill. The House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee is scheduled to vote on HB 13 — sponsored by Reps. Doug Holder and Ray Pilon, both Republicans — Thursday.
"It's absolutely huge," said Keyna Cory, a lobbyist for the National Solid Wastes Management Association who is coordinating a coalition of more 20 businesses and advocacy groups that support the legislation, including AAA, Florida sheriffs, AT&T, rental car companies, local governments and Walt Disney.
For the past two years, the legislation has been blocked in the House because of opposition from a former transportation panel chairman and former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, Cory said.
Cory and Holder, who has been pushing for the texting ban since 2008, credited Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the House transportation subcommittee, for allowing the bill to be heard. Holder thanked Davis on Wednesday in a tweet. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has also said he would not stand in the way of the bill.
"Now we have two new leaders and a whole new interest in it," said Cory, who predicted the House transportation subcommittee will back the bill and allow it to move through the chamber, where it will have to clear two additional panels before it can reach the House floor.
"We're feeling good. But you can never tell until the 60th day," the last of the session, Cory said.
Meanwhile, Detert's bill continued to cruise through the Senate, now heading to the Judiciary Committee, its last committee stop before a floor vote.
The bill makes driving while texting a secondary offense — meaning motorists would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be charged with the offense, which carries a $60 fine plus court costs.
Detert said some critics have called the bill "watered down," but she noted that guilty motorists will face two violations.
"Frankly, they'll end up with two tickets instead of one," she said.
However, Detert continued to emphasize the need for Florida to join the overwhelming majority of states that have a full or partial texting ban — noting that Florida is now one of only five states without some type of ban.
She also argued that the difference between a secondary or primary violation may be lost on the driver demographic targeted by her bill.
"What I want is for mothers and dads to be able to say: ‘Don't forget; don't text while driving. It's against the law,' " Detert said. "And I can guarantee you, none of your children is going to pull down the Florida statutes and say: Oh but it's only a secondary offense."
"Either we have a law or we don't have a law," Detert said. "Let's have one and let's have it this year."
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