Florida House approves anti-texting while driving bill

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A bill allowing Florida drivers to be pulled over for texting while driving emerged from its final committee after the House State Affairs Committee approved the measure.

Currently, texting while driving is only a secondary offense, meaning drivers can only be cited for the violation if pulled over for some other reason. The new legislation (HB 107) would make texting behind the wheel a primary offense.

A similar bill died in the Senate last year after earning overwhelming approval in the House.

Reps. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, and Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican, are reviving the effort in the House this year.

“We’ve all seen it; we’ve all done it,” Toledo said of texting while driving. “This could be the most important piece of legislation that we vote on this year. This legislation is about saving lives and making our roads safe.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 3,450 people were killed as a result of distracted driving in 2016. One study pegged Florida as the second-most dangerous state for distracted driving in the nation.

Multiple parents spoke out Thursday morning in support of the bill. The legislation has also earned support from the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

“The Florida Police Chiefs Association stands in strong support of HB 107, revisions to the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law. In fact, this is our top legislative priority for 2019,” said Amy Mercer, the group’s executive director.

“Making texting while driving a primary offense will help law enforcement better protect the public we serve. We applaud Reps. Toledo and Slosberg for sponsoring this bill, and we especially applaud House leadership for moving this important legislation forward.”

Keyna Cory, a coordinator at the Florida Don’t Text and Drive Coalition, also praised the advancement of the bill.

“It is humbling to have such strong support from the members of the Florida Legislature on legislation to help ban distracted driving,” Cory said.

“Support is growing for these life-saving bills, and we encourage the Legislature to keep the momentum going.”

The legislation also requires officers to record the race and ethnicity of the driver whenever an officer pulls them over. Lawmakers say that provision is aimed at ensuring law enforcement does not use its new authority as a pretext to pull over minorities. The data will be reported to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and will then be forwarded to the Governor and leaders in the House and Senate.

A companion bill in the Senate (SB 76) has already passed three of its four planned committees.

The House version has already been approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee and was originally scheduled to be heard by the Appropriations Committee. That stop before Appropriations has since been removed.

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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