Anti-texting bill expected to pass

By STEVEN J. SMITH
SUN CORRESPONDENT

A bill banning texting while driving, sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and approved by the state Senate last week by a 36-0 vote, is expected to pass in the Florida House by the end of next week.

Detert said the bill, SB 52 — buoyed with support by state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, and Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota — has taken four long years to find sufficient support for passage, and probably will become law by July 1.

“It’s a secondary offense, meaning you have to be pulled over for something else, like weaving or an accident,” Detert said. “Then you would get an additional ticket — with a $30 fine — for texting. So basically you’d get two tickets. If it was a primary offense, you’d get one ticket.

“Some people think it’s better to make it a primary offense, but frankly, with it being a secondary, you’ll get two tickets, and if you have a second offense within five years, you will get points on your license.”

Detert added the idea of the bill is to change behavior, not to raise revenue.

“As of this year, we will have a law banning texting while driving, so that parents can tell their teenage drivers it’s against the law,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to know that we passed a bill that will save lives.”

In response to the proposed bill Friday, some Englewood residents said they supported a ban — but only for texting.

“It’s terrible that people text and drive,” said Fran Consolazio. “I agree with the law. I don’t mind talking on the phone, but texting is not acceptable.”

“I’d be for a law against texting and driving,” said Scott Ivan. “It’s dangerous and deadly.”

Some on the North Port Sun’s Facebook page said the $30 fine wasn’t high enough. Others said other activities done while driving, like GPS use, fiddling with an iPod, talking on the phone, eating or applying makeup also should be addressed.

“The cost of a seat belt violation is over $100 … $30 is barely even a slap on the wrist. I’m more worried about drivers that I see texting while driving than those who don’t wear their seat belts,” Deanna Odom said.

Added Matthew Baker: “While riding my motorcycle, I’ve been in three close calls that very easily could have been the end of me. The drivers were two teenage girls and one adult woman, all who were too busy texting to pay attention behind the wheel of their 2-ton weapons.”

Holder said the statistics speak for themselves, making the new law a “no-brainer.”

“Distracted driving creates 1.6 million accidents and about 330,000 injuries every year,” he said. “Passing this law will allow the (Florida) Highway Patrol to include texting on their citations — up until now not a requirement — to more accurately show it as a direct cause of accidents.”

According to the National Safety Council, texting while driving causes 25 percent of all traffic accidents. Studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conclude a texting driver is 23 times more likely to cause a crash than one who is not, and driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving drunk.

“That’s because drunks know they’re drunk and they’re trying as hard as they can to control their car,” Detert said. “A texter isn’t even looking.”

Detert added the bill’s passage has been delayed for years due to obstructionist efforts by former speaker of the house Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

“For the last two years, speaker Cannon has not allowed that bill to be heard in any committee, because he was against it,” she said, adding Cannon’s opposition came from a belief in less government, seeing the bill as an affront to one’s personal freedom.

“It’s nice to have that attitude, but your rights stop once you come into my lane,” Detert said.

The bill gained traction when Cannon recently stepped down as House speaker and was replaced by Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Florida is one of only five states — which also includes South Carolina, Montana, South Dakota and Hawaii — that currently put no restrictions on texting drivers. Floridians, however, have made their voices heard. Recent polls taken by the University of Florida and AAA revealed more than 90 percent of Florida residents surveyed support a ban on texting while driving.

“We have 11 teenagers a day that die from texting while driving,” Detert said. “If you’re texting while driving and you’re looking down for five seconds, you could’ve traveled the length of a football field.”

Staff writer Tom Chang contributed to this report.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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