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Tougher texting-while-driving law in Florida wins House speaker's support

The movement to crack down on Floridians who text while driving has gained a powerful new convert: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran, who was largely silent on the issue in the 2017 legislative session, now supports a bill to make texting a primary offense, rather than the weaker secondary offense that it has been since 2013.

“The data is staggering,” Corcoran told WTSP Channel 10 in Tampa Tuesday, in one of a series of local TV interviews on the subject. “It’s going to be a great benefit to the state of Florida.”

He noted that according to state data, Florida had nearly 50,000 distracted driving crashes in 2016 and 235 deaths, yet police issued fewer than 1,400 tickets for texting while driving.

Florida is one of only four states that makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means police must stop drivers for another reason. Many African-American legislators oppose giving police more authority to stop and ticket drivers for texting while driving, fearing it could encourage racial profiling.

Corcoran said there is no evidence of that in other states that have cracked down on texting while driving.

Corcoran’s advocacy of a stronger texting law comes as a broad coalition of groups seeks passage of a law that would make texting a primary offense, similar to speeding or running a red light, subject to higher fines and penalty points on a driver’s record that often drive up the cost of insurance.

Car accidents have been on the increase in Florida, as are injuries and deaths on the highways, and that has led to higher insurance premiums.

Corcoran, 52, a lawyer, is considering running for governor in 2018. Explaining why he now supports a tougher texting law, he said: “Because I’ve done it. I know I’ve done it.” He said drivers under age 30 are most likely to have accidents due to texting while driving.

Under Corcoran’s proposal, a texting while driving violation would carry a $30 fine plus court costs, for a total penalty of up to $108, and a second or subsequent violation within five years would be subject to a $60 fine plus court costs totaling $158.

A violation resulting in a crash would add six points to the driver’s record. The bill will include a provision that prevents police from searching a driver’s cell phone without a court order.

The House sponsor of making texting while driving a primary offense is Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton. Corcoran said his proposal will be sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa.

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