Last updated: December 2, 2013
Distracted driving news: State Sen. Maria Sachs has prefiled 2014 legislation that would make violators of Florida’s new text messaging law subject to primary enforcement. She used the bully pulpit of day 1 of the texting law to propose the enforcement upgrade, which would allow police to stop and cite violators for that reason alone. Sachs’ legislation is Senate Bill 322.
A bill that would bar drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones and computers while behind the wheel has been filed for the 2014 legislative session. House Bill 5 is a repeat of unsuccessful legislation filed in 2013 and 2012 by state Rep. Irving Slosberg. Offenses would be non-moving violations. Slosberg lost a teenage daughter in a 1996 auto accident in which a young friend was behind the wheel.
The ban on text messaging while driving in Florida went into effect Oct. 1, with limited (secondary) enforcement. Fines: $30 to $60 plus costs — as well as points for subsequent offenses, causing a crash and for texting in school zones.
Statewide in 2012, 4,841 crashes were blamed on electronic distracted driving, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports.
Current distracted driving prohibitions:
- Text messaging while driving outlawed for all drivers. Secondary enforcement. Fines: $30 to $60 plus court costs. DMV points against license for repeat offenses, texting in school zones and causing a crash.
Read the Florida texting & driving law.
Distracted driving legislation (2014)
House Bill 5: Would prohibit the use of mobile telecommunications devices by drivers under the age of 18. Includes computers and game devices. Billed as the “Minor Traffic Safety Act.” Non-moving violation. Would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015. In Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee. (Slosberg)
HB 333: Would double fines for texting violations in school zones and designated school crosswalks. (Stark)
Senate Bill 322: Seeks primary enforcement of Florida’s 2013 texting & driving law by allowing police to stop and cite offenders for that reason alone. (Sachs)
SB 442: Seeks to double fines for texting violations in school zones. See HB 333 above. (Ring)
Distracted driving notes (2013):
State Rep. Richard Stark has filed legislation for 2014 that would double fines for those who text message and drive in posted school zones and school crosswalks. “It seems that the only way for the Legislature to increase the penalties for texting while driving is to do it incrementally,” Stark told WFSU in December. He said the idea came from high school students in his district. State Sen. Jeremy Ring has the companion bill.
State Sen. Darren Soto plans to refile for 2014 his bill seeking felony charges for those who kill or seriously injure others while texting behind the wheels. Soto, D-Kissimmee, cites families “hoping for justice” after a death occurs but finding that only a ticket is possible for the offense — “a slap on the wrist.” A similar bill was filed in the House last year.
Law officers in Southwest Florida reportedly issued only five texting & driving citations in the first month of the Florida distracted driving law. A Cape Coral police spokesman told WINK News that the text messaging law has several loopholes that work “in the driver’s favor and make it more difficult for the officer to write a citation and enforce the statute.” These include the secondary enforcement and the need to prove a driver was texting, not adjusting music on a cell phone or using its GPS app.
In Volusia and Flagler counties, two tickets were written in the first month, another media report said in November.
Media coverage of Florida’s new texting law has been substantial, but the public won’t be hearing much from the state itself. Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the texting legislation, vetoed about $1 million in state funding to get out the word about the new distracted driving law. Electronic message boards along Florida highways occasionally will display the message: “Don’t Text and Drive. It’s the Law.”
State Rep. Doug Holder, who had the main texting bill in the House, said: “I can’t tell you I’m not disappointed” that the educational funds were eliminated. But state Sen. Nancy Detert, author of the successful texting law, wasn’t overly concerned that the state backed off on promoting the new distracted driving law: “Everyone knows it’s passed.”
A Tampa area school bus driver has been suspended after a middle-schooler’s video showed the driver looking at her cell phone while driving with one hand. The Hillsborough County school district said in response to late September media coverage that texting was against its policy (even before the new state law): “That’s a dangerous distraction for any driver, but the potential danger is greater when you have a bus full of children.
A West Melbourne driver who hit and killed two fishermen while texting was sentenced to help build a memorial to his victims. A third fisherman was hurt when Vincent Worbington’s SUV hit the trio on a causeway bridge. The “extraordinarily despondent” driver was sentenced Sept. 9 to 120 hours of community service, some of which would be used to help the surviving families build memorials to the dead men. He lost his license for 10 years. A month before sentencing, one of the fishermen’s mothers said of potential punishments: “Now you’re going to get a ticket that says you killed two boys, shame on you? The law has to be changed.” Florida has no law limiting cell phone calls while driving.
Gov. Rick Scott said before the texting law’s May 28 signing at a Miami high school: “We must do everything we can at the state level to keep our teenagers and everyone on our roads safe.” Of the new texting law, he said: “This is going to save lives.”
After a few days of drama, the final May 2 Senate vote on the texting & driving bill was nearly unanimous. The measure cleared the House with a 110-6 vote the day before.
While personal liberty concerns repeatedly have doomed distracted driving legislation in Florida, not all opponents of the texting & driving bill actually opposed the concept. Some critics say pending law is just too watered down to make much difference on the streets.
The measure called for secondary enforcement, allowing police to stop drivers and issue tickets only in conjunction with another offense. It also allows texting at stop lights, which is banned in most states. And law officers say it’s too difficult to tell if a driver is texting or entering a phone number.
State Sen. Nancy Detert, author of the texting bill SB 52, said she was “relieved” to hear the governor was signing her bill. She spent four years trying to get a distracted driving ban through the Legislature.
“I’m just very pleased that it has finally passed and I’m doubly pleased that I don’t have to start over again next year,” Detert said after the Senate vote.
State Rep. Doug Holder, who had the main texting bill in the House (HB 13, replaced by SB 52), says weak enforcement makes the legislation more palatable to resistant lawmakers. His bill also called for secondary enforcement. Holder made five bids to get a texting bill through, and told the Miami Herald of the signing: “After five years, I wouldn’t miss it.”
On June 12, the governor also signed into law distracted driving restrictions on commercial drivers such as truckers and bus drivers. Use of handheld cell phones and texting are prohibited for the commercial drivers, and offenders are subject to primary enforcement. (This law comes under federal guidelines tied to funding and was part of a general transportation bill.)
At least eight distracted driving bills were before the 2013 legislative session.
The Sun Sentinel of South Florida editorialized May 29 about the texting law’s secondary status: “It’s unfortunate the ban has a gaping flaw. … But at least it’s a start. A ban on texting while driving is finally on the books. … In time, Florida will make texting while driving a primary offense.”
Supporters of the successful texting & driving bill thought it might not get through the Legislature before recess. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, succeeded in adding an amendment that specifies police could only use mobile phone records as evidence “in event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury” — not to pursue distracted driving convictions.
Detert, author of the texting bill, called the amendment’s timing “suspicious,” as the measure logged another day’s delay with the Friday adjournment looming.
The House has gotten in line with federal prohibitions against interstate truckers’ texting and using handheld cell phones. It approved an amendment to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles bill spelling out the 2012 federal regulations affecting many commercial drivers. “Not only are we penalizing the drivers if they’re texting and driving, we’re penalizing the companies. And the companies are behind us,” says Rep. Irv Slosberg, a co-sponsor of the House bill that was amended to make state laws mirror the DOT regulations. Legislatures nationwide are quickly backing the federal policy in order to protect highway funding. Law officers would be able to stop and cite commercial drivers for that offense alone, a higher level of enforcement than what is envisioned in the statewide texting legislation.
More than 9 in 10 Floridians support legislation that would ban texting while driving, a University of Florida poll found in mid-March. “Public support for this legislation is remarkable,” a spokesman for UF’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service said, referring to HB 13 and SB 52. The pollsters said 95 percent of respondents were in favor of the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.” The phone poll of 371 Floridians did not include cell phone numbers.
“It’s been a very frustrating long trip from beginning to end,” state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said as the 2013 version of her texting bill neared approval in the House. “It sounds like a five-minute bill, I never thought it was going to be a four-year bill,” she told the Orlando Sentinel on April 8. Detert’s SB 52 is a rerun of her texting legislation from 2012.
State Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, found support for his HB 13 in the House Civil Justice subcommittee, but was asked why his legislation wouldn’t allow police to stop and cite offenders for that reason alone. Holder said the bill had a better chance of making it through both houses with the watered-down (secondary) enforcement. The main Senate texting bill also calls for secondary enforcement.
Holder said as his bill headed to the House floor: “We’re losing people every single day because they’re texting while driving and they’re distracted while driving.”
Holder said he thought “the timing is right” for Florida’s first distracted driving law. “I think we are going to get something passed,” he said before the legislative session began.
State Sen. Thad Altman and Rep. Irving Slosberg are back with plans (SB 152, HB 61) to prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones and other wireless communications devices. Both are billed as the Minor Traffic Safety Act.
For the full year 2012, about 4,850 crashes in the Sunshine State were blamed on drivers who were texting or using other wireless communications devices, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports.
Distracted driving legislation (2013):
Senate Bill 52: Would outlaw texting, e-mailing and instant messaging for all drivers in Florida. Hands-free texting and use of devices for navigation permitted. Secondary enforcement. Fine $30. Non-moving violation. With subsequent convictions within a five-year period, fine $60 plus 3 points against license. Six points for causing crash while illegally using handheld communications device; two additional points for using handheld device in school zones. Billed as the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law. See SB 416 of 2012, below. Amended and approved by the Transportation Committee in a 9-0 vote Feb. 6. Approved by the Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee in a unanimous vote of March 6. Approved by the Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote of April 8. OK’d by the full Senate in a unanimous vote of April 16. Approved by the House in a 110-6 vote May 1. Latest legislative action: Final approval by the Senate in a 39-1 vote May 2. Signed by the governor May 28. Takes effect Oct. 1. (Detert)
House Bill 7125: General (omnibus) state transportation bill. Includes federally created restrictions on handheld wireless device use by commercial drivers. Primary enforcement of ban on texting and use of handheld devices. Fines for drivers from $500 to $2,750 and possible 120-day license suspension. Fines for companies up to $11,000. Approved by the House on April 25 and May 2. Approved by the Senate on May 2. Signed by the governor June 13. Takes effect July 1.
HB 13: Would ban text messaging for all drivers in Florida. Same as SB 52, above. Fine $30. Seeks 6-point penalty for causing a crash while unlawfully using a wireless communications device and two points for using handheld device in school zones. Amended and approved by the Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee in a unanimous vote of Feb. 7. Approved by the Civil Justice Subcommittee in a unanimous vote of March 13. Approved by Economic Affairs in a 16-1 vote of April 1. Latest legislative action: Substituted by SB 52 on April 30. (Holder)
SB 74: Would prohibit texting and use of handheld communications devices for all drivers. Six points against license for causing crash while illegally using handheld communications device; two points for using handheld device in school zones. Billed as the Florida Ban on Communicating While Driving Law. (Sachs)
SB 152: Would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone or other wireless communications device. Violations would bring a 30-day license suspension. Bill includes several distracted driving education provisions. Also limits number of passengers allowable for novice drivers. Dubbed the Minor Traffic Safety Act. (Altman)
SB 396: Seeks to prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using wireless handheld communications devices. No exemption for hands-free operation. (Abruzzo)
HB 61: Seeks to bar drivers under the age of 18 from texting or using a cell phone or other “mobile telecommunications devices.” Similar to SB 152, above. (Slosberg)
HB 849: Would allow vehicular homicide prosecution of drivers who text message and kill another person. (Slosberg)
SB 708: Vehicular homicide prosecution of drivers who kill while texting. Same as HB 849, above. (Soto)
2012 distracted driving notes:
Supporters of distracted driving laws had hopes that the incoming speaker of the House, Will Weatherford, would change the environment in Tallahassee, but a mid-November 2012 statement suggests the Republican leadership remains unenthusiastic about a texting ban: “Elected officials have a responsibility to consider the safety of Floridians and also ensure drivers are safe on the roadways,” said Weatherford, a Republican from the Tampa Bay area. “Equally as important as our safety are our individual rights, and in the case of texting while driving, there should be no exception.” A reporter from the Ocala Star-Banner sought clarification of Weatherford’s remarks, without success.
The Florida Distracted Driving Summit brought together more than 270 officials, safety advocates and law enforcement officers in Tampa. The Nov. 13 gathering heard from researchers, physicians and survivors of distracted driving victims.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, keynote speaker, said: “I appreciate and applaud the advocates who are working tirelessly here in Florida to remind drivers to keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel and their focus on driving.”
Florida is one of the few states without a single distracted driving law. LaHood said it was “critical that this change, and I know some in the Florida State Legislature are working on it.”
“We have the power,” said Russell Hurd, whose daughter was killed by a texting driver near Orlando. “We must have a ban on texting while driving.”
Orlando Sentinel editors had this take on why Florida has no distracted driving prohibitions: “Up to now, lawmakers here have decided it’s more important to preserve the freedom to read and type messages on a cellphone while driving, even though it risks death or injury for drivers, their passengers, other motorists and pedestrians,” the Central Florida editorialized Nov. 14. “This calculation by lawmakers has almost certainly been influenced by lobbying and campaign contributions from the telecommunications industry.”
DOT chief Ray LaHood says it’s critical that the Sunshine State adopt distracted driving laws. Of the governor’s call for more studies, LaHood said: “The troopers of the (Florida Highway Patrol) and the pediatric surgeons at Shriners Hospitals have seen the evidence firsthand.” He attended the Florida Distracted Driving Summit on Nov. 13.
The first Florida Distracted Driving Summit was hosted by the Distraction Advocate Network, USAA insurance, the Florida Department of Transportation and Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Gov. Rick Scott has called for traffic safety officials to study texting & driving to determine if Florida needs to take action. The governor’s Oct. 23 comments came after a Department of Highway Safety report that Florida traffic fatalities are up 4 percent so far in 2012. Department director Julie Jones said states with texting laws aren’t seeing similar fatality increases, but did not offer specifics.
In response to Scott’s call for a Florida text messaging study, the Orlando Sentinel editorialized Nov. 14: “This is like studying whether smoking causes cancer.” In 2011, Scott vetoed a bill that would have required the DMV to provide education on the dangers of electronic distracted driving.
The Department of Highway Safety said its traffic fatality report of late 2012 doesn’t break out texting because the practice remains legal in Florida. Law officers aren’t required to include it in accident reports.
Florida’s Legislature once again adjourned without producing a single distracted driving law. The 2012 bill with the most traction was Sen. Nancy Detert’s plan to ban texting & driving, which advanced through four votes in the Senate.
Rep. Irv Slosberg, who has filed several unsuccessful pieces of distracted driving legislation, blames their failure on “powerful libertarians” among Florida’s lawmakers. Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said he hopes the next House speaker, Will Weatherford, will be more open to a texting & driving ban. Weatherford indicated in mid-November that he would be open to discussing specific plans, but had concerns about “individual rights.”
The outgoing House speaker, Dean Cannon, had maintained there were several distracted behaviors at least as dangerous as text messaging while driving, and opposed “one more layer of prohibitive behavior” from state government. The House companion bill to Detert’s SB 416 was never considered.
2013 texting bill sponsor Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said: “Generally conservatives are somewhat reluctant to let government have control. I am conservative but (distracted driving) has become an epidemic,” he told the Tampa Tribune in mid-December 2012.
State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, who made headlines two years ago when she single-handedly killed a House texting and driving plan, cast the lone vote against Sen. Detert’s texting legislation in a budget subcommittee on Jan. 26, 2012. Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, called texting legislation “intellectually dishonest” when she was in the House.
More than 70 percent of Florida voters support a statewide ban on text messaging while driving, a new survey shows. Democrats were more inclined to favor the distracted driving legislation, with 78 percent supportive vs. 66 percent of Republicans, the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Herald survey of 800 voters found. Voters between the ages of 18 and 34 lagged the state average by 9 percent.
Sen. Detert’s SB 416 was marked for secondary enforcement in order to make it more palatable for long-resistant lawmakers. The plan was the same as the Republican’s SB 158 of 2011, which died in the Senate Transportation Committee.
Rep. Slosberg again filed a bill that would ban handheld electronics use by drivers 18 and younger. “Children shouldn’t be on their cellphones (while behind the wheel),” he says. Slosberg, who lost a teenage daughter in a crash, also is a co-sponsor of the (Pilon) text messaging bill.
In the first 10 months of 2011, electronic distractions led to 2,218 vehicle accidents in Florida, state records show. 145 were linked to texting & driving.
2012 cell phone, texting legislation (dead):
Senate Bill 416 (CS): Would prohibit text messaging while driving in Florida. (Also, email, IM.) Secondary offense. Allows use of wireless communications devices while stopped at a red light. Exempts navigation activities. First offense a non-moving violation with a $30 fine. Subsequent offenses with five years would be moving violations with a fine of $60 and 3 points against the driver’s license. Also adds causing an accident while using a wireless communications device as a 6-point offense. Potential loopholes: Permits receiving messages that are “related to the operation or navigation of the motor vehicle” as well as “safety information” and “weather alerts.” Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote Dec. 7. Approved by the Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities committee in a 12-1 vote on Jan. 12 (added 2 point penalty for school zone infraction). Approved by the Senate’s transportation budget subcommittee in a 14-1 vote on Jan. 26. Approved by the Budget Committee in a 20-1 vote taken Feb. 21. Latest legislative status: “Died on calendar.” Same as HB 299, below. (Detert)
SB 122: Would require driving schools to include course content on distracted driving risks. Approved and slightly amended by Transportation Committee on Dec. 7. Approved by the Education Pre-K Committee in a 12-5 vote Jan. 30. Died in Budget subcommittee on Transportation. (Sobel)
SB 930: Seeks to prohibit drivers 18 years old and younger from using handheld cellular telephones and related electronic communications devices. Secondary enforcement. Penalty: One-month suspension of driver’s license. Also would require driving schools to include course content on the dangers of distracted driving. Died in Transportation. (Altman)
House Bill 299: Seeks to outlaw text messaging while driving. Adds 6-point penalties for causing accident while using a wireless communications device. Same as SB 416, above. Never considered. Dead. (Pilon)
HB 187: Would ban use of handheld cellular telephones and related electronic communications devices by drivers 18 years old and younger. School bus drivers also prohibited from texting and talking while behind the wheel. Non-moving violation. Never considered. Dead. (Slosberg)
HB 39 Requires motorists cited for a traffic offense while using a handheld wireless communications device to appear in person before a “designated official.” Additional fines are $50 for using the electronic device, or $100 for using the device in a school zone (plus fees). Instructs officer who writes citation to note of the use of a mobile handheld device, as well as whether offense occurred in a school zone. Never considered. Dead. (Julien)
2011 distracted driving notes:
Rep. Irv Slosberg says chances of success for the text messaging legislation he’s co-sponsoring are “slim and none.” “Sooner or later we’ll get it out of the drawer,” Slosberg told the News-Press.
Sen. Nancy Detert is making her third attempt to outlaw text messaging while driving with SB 416. “It’s time that we caught up with the rest of the nation,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, at the Transportation Committee’s hearing of Dec. 7.
Distracted driving (aka careless driving) is the No. 1 cause of fatal traffic accidents in Broward County, state numbers show.
In 2011, the Legislature rejected or ignored all bills that would limit drivers’ use of cell phones and text messaging devices.
Freshman Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said after the passage of her driver education measure HB 689: “We’ve been battling the texting while driving issue in this state for years, and up until now we have done very little to reduce the danger to drivers on the road. … Education is not the end of the road, but it certainly is the beginning.” The governor apparently disagreed and vetoed her bill.
Berman thanked Sen. Eleanor Sobe, who filed one of several bills that require the DMV to ensure drivers education courses and materials cover the risks of talking, texting and driving: “In my legislative career, I have seen attempts to ban cell phone use fail several times and that is why I want to take an educational and preventative approach to this dangerous issue,” said Sobe, D-Hollwood.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has barred its deputies from text messaging while driving. Violators would be subject to a letter of reprimand or suspension or termination. Volusia County’s deputies have similar restrictions.
Ellyn Bogdanoff, who single-handedly killed a House texting and driving plan in 2010, has since been elected to the state Senate. The ex-House Finance and Tax Council chairwoman says she’s glad she blocked HB 41, claiming the measure was “just accommodating a sound bite.”
HB 79 sponsor Rep. Ari Porth notes that “obstacles” in the House (including Bogdanoff) have been eliminated this year. Porth, D-Broward County, says the Sunshine State’s lack of distracted driving legislation is “shameful.”
The St. Petersburg Times reports that “Once again, the small-government political leanings that permeate the Florida Legislature could doom the (text messaging) proposals.”
A stretch of U.S. 41 has been named in honor of Heather Hurd, the Heather in Heather’s Law. The young woman was killed by a distracted trucker in Central Florida.
2011 cell phone, texting legislation (dead):
HB 689: Would require DMV to ensure that driver education programs cover the risks of using handheld electronic devices in a vehicle. Approved by the House in 94-16 vote on May 2. Approved by the Senate in a 28-9 vote on May 3. Governor vetoed the legislation. (Berman)
Senate Bill 80: Would prohibit drivers from texting and other forms of text-based communication such as email and instant messaging. Primary enforcement. Fine of $100. Died in the Senate Transportation Committee. (Lynn)
SB 158: Would outlaw text messaging while driving in Florida. Cites use of “non-voice interpersonal communication,” meaning cell phone calls would remain legal. Secondary enforcement. First offense non-moving violation; subsequent violations within five years are moving violations. Calls for 6 points against driver’s license if crash results from unlawful use of wireless communications device. Died in the Transportation Committee. (Detert)
SB 758: Would requiring driver education programs to address the dangers of using handheld electronic communication devices while behind the wheel. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 9 in a 6-0 vote. Died in education committee. See HB 689, above. (Sobel)
SB 1418: Would ban use of handheld cellular telephones and other handheld electronic communications devices by drivers under 18 years of age. Hands free operation OK. aka the Alex Brown Act. Moving violation. Repeat violations would result in a six-month license suspension. Identical to HB 835, below. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 6-0 vote on April 12. Died in Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee. (Altman).
SB 1840: Would prohibit drivers younger than 18 years of age from operating a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device or telephone. Secondary enforcement. 30-day license suspension. Also calls for driver education programs to address the risks of using handheld electronic communication devices while on the road. Cleared the Senate Transportation Committee in a 5-1 vote on April 12. Died in Budget Committee. (Altman)
House Bill 79: Creates “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.” Identical to SB 158, above. Died in Transportation Committee. (Porth)
HB 833: Would prohibit use of handheld cellular telephones and other electronic communications devices by drivers under 18 years of age and drivers of school buses. Hands-free operation OK. Part of overall “Minor Traffic Safety Act.” Non-moving violation. If a death results, 120 hours of community service possible. Withdrawn after first reading. (Slosberg)
HB 835: Identical to SB 1418, above. Withdrawn after first reading. (Slosberg)
- Florida distracted driving archive: Reports from 2008, 2009 and 2010.