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Florida lawmakers introduce bill to make texting and driving a primary offense

Posted at 11:52 AM, Dec 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-06 17:21:35-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Lawmakers in Tallahassee introduced a bill Wednesday to make texting and driving a primary offense in Florida, while protecting civil liberties. Rep. Jackie Toledo (R - Tampa) and Rep. Emily Slosberg (D - Boca Raton) filed House Bill 33, House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised the legislation saying, "Texting and driving presents a real, life-threatening danger to Floridians both on and off the road. The data is overwhelming and the need to act is equally compelling. We're proud to unveil a bill that does just that while also addressing legitimate civil liberties concerns. This bill establishes a proper balance between safety and law enforcement and our cherished liberties. The goal is safer streets not greater conflict."

Drivers in Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota can legally text and drive without being pulled over and ticketed. In Florida, texting while driving is currently a secondary offense, meaning police need a reason, like speeding or a broken taillight, to cite drivers for texting.

HB 33, if passed, will strengthen the current ban on texting, emailing, and instant messaging while driving, by the changing the enforcement of the ban from secondary to primary.

A first violation would carry a $30 fine plus court costs, for a total fine of up to $108.

Subsequent violations committed within five years would mean a moving violation and a $60 fine plus court costs, for a total fine of up to $158, with three points added to a driver's license. A violation of the ban that causes a crash would mean six points to the offender's driver license record.

A violation of the ban in conjunction with any moving violation for which points are assessed, when committed within a school safety zone, would mean an additional two points on one's license. 

The bill protects civil liberties by requiring a warrant to access a driver's phone. It also requires a law enforcement officer who stops a driver for violating the ban to information the driver of his or her right to decline a search of the phone. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Jackie Toledo said, "In 2015 there were over 45,000 distracted driving crashes in Florida. These crashes resulted in 39,000 injuries and more than 200 fatalities. As the mother of five children these numbers are as frightening as they are compelling. As an engineer the data is crystal clear. And as a legislator, my goal is safer streets and the rule of law. I thank the Speaker for his support and encouragement and look forward to sending this bill to Governor Scott."

Co-sponsor, Rep. Emily Slosberg concluded by saying, “Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the 'Texting While Driving Ban' as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries. I've been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”