Fla. no longer distracted on texting, driving

florida state legislator license plateFlorida, one of the stumblebum states when it comes to distracted driving laws, finally appears to be waking up to the dangers of cell phoning and text messaging behind the wheel.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist signaled the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to get behind legislation that would rein in drivers’ texting and mobile phone chatting.

“I think it would provide some safety for our people,” Crist told highway department chief Julie Jones, in a classic of understatement (according to the News Service of Florida).

The Legislature rejected or ignored all 2009 bills that would limit drivers’ use of mobile phones and text messaging devices.

“It looks to me like the state Legislature is more concerned with a healthy bottom line for cell phone companies than it is with people dying on our roads,” said a student involved in a “Stop Texting and Telephoning in Cars” campaign.

As lawmakers across the nation were acting on the menace of texing and driving, legislation seeking to save lives in Florida couldn’t get arrested — couldn’t even get a committee hearing — as the lawmakers spent their days mudwrestling over the budget.

“It’s slowly been building,” Sen. Carey Baker, another Sunshine State understater, says of distracted driving legislation. “But I think this year (2010), something’s going to pass.”

The 2010 session begins March 2. This time around, there are more than a dozen distracted driving bills and more sure to come from lawmakers seeking a free ride on the bandwagon.

One reason: Three of the bills come from candidates for statewide office, the news service points out: “Sens. Carey Baker and Paula Dockery, Republican contenders for agriculture commissioner and governor, respectively, and Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.”

Crist himself is seeking a Senate seat and can use all the crossover support he can get, based on recent GOP satisfaction with the governor.

Go Gators … and go get a clue, legislators.

Read more about Florida text messaging and handheld cell phone legislation.

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