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Few tickets issued after first year of Florida's hands-free policy

'My priority here is saving lives,' Rep. Slosberg says
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Posted at 7:32 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 19:32:57-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's first year enforcing its hands-free driving policy didn't bring in a whole lot of citations.

Officers began writing tickets for the new rule in January, which forbids drivers from having mobile devices in their hands while in school or work zones.

Lawmakers drafted the bill in the 2019 legislative session to help minimize distracted driving in the state. It kills more than 200 Floridians each year and accounts for more than 100,000 crashes.

Looking at the state's latest numbers, texting citations nearly doubled to just under 4,000 in 2020, but only about 1,400 came from the work and school zone provision.

Though the pandemic likely lowered Florida's totals, highway safety advocates still think the current law is too limited to make any real impact on distracted driving.

“We know from experience that strong laws will actually help change the behavior of people when they are on the roads," said Jane Terry, vice president of government affairs with the National Safety Council.

Terry said broad hands-free policies have had success in other states. Georgia issued nearly 25,000 citations the first-year lawmakers required hands-free driving on all roads. Fatalities dropped as a result.

"There is a lot more we can do to end fatalities on our roadway," Terry said. "All of these crashes are completely preventable."

At least 25 states have hands-free laws for all their roads. State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, would like to make Florida the 26th, filing a bill for the upcoming lawmaking session.

"If you look around, anywhere on our streets, people are distracted," said the Delray Beach Democrat. "They're driving, looking at their phones. It’s a deadly combination.”

Her twin sister Dori Slosberg was killed in a crash years ago. The lawmaker said she wants to use the stronger policy, named after her sibling, to prevent future tragedies.

"My priority here is saving lives on our streets and ensuring others don’t go through what I went through," she said.

Lawmakers favoring limited government control have blocked previous attempts, resulting in compromise and the state's current texting law. Slosberg has hopes of success in 2021, however, saying she's already gathering support before lawmakers return in March.

"This is about safety," she said. "This is about saving lives."

If Florida lawmakers were to approve the tougher hands-free restriction, it would take effect in October of next year.