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Texting while driving bill clears last committee hurdle

After trying to pass a texting while driving law for for years, Sen. Nancy Detert can finally see the finish line ahead

“I really couldn’t be more thrilled,” said the Venice Republican, after Senate Bill 52 passed by a unanimous vote in the Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon, the last committee stop before heading to the Senate floor. “We finally have it in a position to pass it in the Senate and in the House and the governor has signified he’s willing to sign it, too, so hopefully we’re home free this year.”  

The House version, (HB 13), sponsored by Sarasota Republicans Doug Holder and Ray Pilon, is set to be heard on the House floor this week. “Doug’s going to beat me in the road race,” Detert said.

The senator said a “frustrated” public has been pushing lawmakers for a texting while driving bill for years and politicians have finally heard the message. “Every time they go home, people say how come we never passed that texting while driving bill?”

Florida is one of only five states without any type of driving ban, Detert said. The measure is supported by businesses and organizations including AT&T, AARP, the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida PTA.

Her prime goal, Detert said, is to retrain young people and alter the culture of texting, “just like we did with seatbelts. Young people will hop in a car and they put their seatbelt on right away quicker than older people do because we weren’t raised that way.

“I just want a mom to be able to say to her teenager 'don’t text while driving. It’s against the law,' " Detert said. "They’re the most at risk, they’re the most glued to their. And they have to learn from the time they first learn to drive, that you just can’t text.

The texting bill prohibits driving while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other text in a wireless communication device (including an Ipad).

The bill would make texting while driving a secondary offense, which means a motorist would have to commit another violation, such as careless driving, in order to be pulled over.

Once stopped, a driver could receive two tickets, one for the infraction and one for texting.

The fine would be $30 for a first-time texting offense, $60 if it occurs again within five years, with more points added if the violation is in a school zone. Texting would be allowed in hands-off high-tech cars and when a car is stopped at a red light or in a traffic jam.

“It’s pretty clear this will save lives if we pass it,” said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee.

Detert said she and other advocates for the law have been caught between “people who want nothing and members who want everything. Up until today we still had some resistance.” Another big change helping the bill this year, she said, has been new leadership in the House.

“Speaker Weatherford has allowed his members, for the first time in four years, to voice their opinion on the issue,” Detert said. “They’ve been held mute all these years.”