After a few days of drama, the May 2 Senate vote was nearly unanimous in favor of the texting & driving bill. The measure cleared the House with a 110-6 vote the day before.
SB 52 calls for fines of $30 plus costs — as well as points for subsequent offenses, causing a crash and for texting in school zones.
Interviewed Monday, Gov. Rick Scott dodged the direct question of whether he would sign the texting bill:
“Well as a parent, and now a grandparent, you worry about people texting and driving,” Scott told a Fox affiliate reporter. “So, I look forward to seeing that bill when it gets to my desk.” State Sen. Nancy Detert, author of the texting bill SB 52, said several times in recent weeks that Scott would sign her bill if it makes it to his desk.
“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,” said Detert, who tried repeatedly in recent years to get through a distracted driving bill.
While personal liberty concerns have repeatedly doomed distracted driving legislation in Florida, not all opponents of the Detert bill oppose the concept. Some critics say pending law is just too watered down to make much difference on the streets.
The measure calls 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 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.
At least eight distracted driving bills were before the 2013 legislative session.
Distracted driving notes (2013):
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.
State Sen. Nancy 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. To the governor. (Detert)
House Bill 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 2010 legislation notes:
No distracted driving legislation succeeded during the 2010 legislative session, despite Gov. Charlie Christ’s promise to sign a ban on text messaging. 18 vehicle safety bills regarding talking and texting had been under consideration.
Rep. Alan Williams says he’ll be back with another piece of legislation that would address text messaging while driving in Florida: “I’m sure folks don’t want their rights infringed upon,” Williams said in September 2010. “But at the same time we have to save lives.” The North Florida legislator’s HB 211, primarily a drowsy driving bill, sought to prevent use of handheld telecommunications devices by school bus drivers.
Former State Sen. Frederica Wilson, who authored distracted driving legislation in 2009 and 2010, now serves as a congresswoman from South Florida. She vows to push for federal legislation that would protect minors from distracted drivers.
The Florida Highway Patrol has ordered its troopers to stop using handheld cell phones while driving, unless a hands-free device is employed. The policy, announced in October 2010, also requires troopers to pull over before using a GPS system.
Broward County’s school system and its employee union have agreed upon penalties for bus drivers who text or use cell phones while behind the wheel: Texting, termination. Cell phone call, five-day suspension and then termination on second offense.
The House version of a texting and driving bill (HB 41) that’s advanced in the Senate (SB 448) died in committee. House Finance and Tax Council chairwoman Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, refused to allow a vote, claiming that the activity is already prohibited by a general traffic law. Bogdanoff says the texting bill is “intellectually dishonest.” She has since moved on to the state Senate.
The House’s Roads, Bridges & Ports Policy Committee held a distracted driving legislation workshop on Feb. 17. The goal was to consider forming a single bill out of numerous plans submitted for the 2010 session. Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, said a “broad consensus” had been reach on prohibiting text messaging, but not limits on cell phone use while driving. Also up for more debate: Whether a ban would call for “primary enforcement” — meaning a law office could pull over a driver for that reason alone — or secondary enforcement, which requires another reason for the stop.
Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, refiled the so-called Heather’s Law (SB 244), which would prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving. She also submitted a stand-alone text messaging bill (SB 374).
Heather’s Law is named after Heather Hurd, 27, killed by a trucker who was fumbling for his text messaging device as he slammed into her vehicle. Her fiance was seriously injured and another woman died as well. The wreck occurred on Florida’s infamous “Bloody 27″ highway. “This year we hope to make Heather’s memory more impactful by passing (the bill),” Wilson said.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, filed SB 168, seeking to outlaw text messaging while driving in the Sunshine State. While he supports restrictions on cell phone use, he went texting-only: “We’re focusing on the most aberrant, dangerous behavior — reading and writing texts.”
Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, is back with distracted driving legislation that would ban texting while behind the wheel for all Florida drivers.
Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, first introduced texting while driving legislation in 2007. Baker has two bills pending — SB 324 and SB 326 — and plans to file another that would prevent teens from using any kind of handheld portable devices while behind the wheel. “It’s slowly been building,” Baker says of distracted driving legislation. “But I think this year (2010), something’s going to pass.”
The city of Parkland (Broward County) enacted a ban on text messaging while driving on Oct. 7, 2009. Violations of the Parkland ban bring $100 fines. The city has asked the state attorney general for a ruling on the legality of individual cities banning texting while driving. Parkland appears to be the first Florida city to outlaw text messaging for motorists.
2010 legislation (all dead):
SB 448: Secondary enforcement. Fines of $30 plus court costs/thereafter, $60 plus costs. A violation resulting in a crash adds 6 points to license. Based on the federal DOT’s sample legislation for texting bans. Approved by the communications panel April 14. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 24 and April 19. Sent to the full Senate. Companion bill to HB 41, below. (Detert)
HB 41: Seeks to ban text messaging and related activities. Approved by the The Roads, Bridges and Ports Committee on March 10. Died in the House finance committee, with the chairwoman refusing to allow a vote. Companion bill to SB 448, above. (Holder)
SB 244 (Heather’s Law): Seeks to prohibit use of handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle in Florida unless a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset is enabled. Secondary enforcement. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 24. (Wilson) (Bill was refiled from 2009).
SB 1144: Would prohibit school bus drivers from using mobile telecommunications devices. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 24. (Smith)
SB 324: Would outlaw text messaging while driving. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 24. (Baker)
SB 328: Seeks to prohibit text messaging while driving. Includes paging and use of devices to access Internet. (Dockery)
Florida House Bill 323: Would prohibit text messaging by drivers. (Long)
HB 333: Would outlaw use of cell phones unless a headset or hands-free accessory is employed. Secondary enforcement, meaning a violation cannot be the sole reason for stopping the driver. (Garcia)
SB 608: Companion bill to HB 333. (Rich)
HB 687: Seeks to prohibit use of cell phones in school zones. Nonmoving violation with fines doubled. (Chestnut)
SB 326: Seeks to outlaw text messaging by school bus operators and railroad engineers. (Baker)
SB 522: Would restrict drivers under the age of 18 from text messaging or using cell phones. One point against license and possible loss of license. (Gelber)
SB 168: Would prohibit use of electronic communication devices to send or receive text-based communications while operating a motor vehicle. (Altman)
SB 592: Prohibits drivers under age 18 from using any handheld electronic devices. Secondary enforcement, meaning the driver must be stopped for another offense. $50 surcharge added to any other moving violation. Law officer may issue warning or safety materials instead of assessing surcharge. (Crist)
SB 374: Would prohibit text messaging by all drivers. (Wilson)
SB 934: Would prohibit drivers from text messaging and using handheld cell phones. Filed but withdrawn by sponsor. (Deutch)
HB 221: “Drowsy driving bill” that included restrictions on school bus drivers’ use of handheld electronic devices. (Williams)
SB 1578: Seeks to outlaw text messaging while driving in Florida. Died in Committee on Transportation.
HB 1127: Would ban cell phone use by drivers under 18 unless a hands-free device is employed. Also allows for additional penalties against drivers have been cited for another offense but are found to be text messaging or using other handheld electronic devices. Died in Roads, Bridges & Ports Policy Committee.
HB 377 seeks to outlaw text messaging while driving a motor vehicle. Died in Roads, Bridges & Ports Policy Committee.
HB 473: Would ban use of mobile phones by school bus drivers while the motor is running. Died in Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Council.
Florida 2009 legislation notes:
The Florida Legislature has turned its attention to budget matters and would not be considering legislation designed to rein in use of cell phones and text messaging devices by drivers, the Associated Press reported April 28, 2009.
“I know the lawmakers don’t want to do anything about it,” said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, co-sponsor of a bill seeking to ban text-messaging devices. “They have a little term, ‘We can’t legislate everything.’ It’s taking forever to get this bill through a committee and it’s been filed year after year.”
The Miami Herald editorialized on the Florida cell phone law resistance:
“Clearly, the Legislature is acting as hand-maiden to the telecommunications industry on this issue. When local governments, including Miami-Dade County, banned hand-held cellphone use in cars a few years ago, the Legislature promptly approved a law forbidding local governments from regulating cellphone use.”
The Florida Department of Transportation has begun a “Stay Alive, Just Drive” campaign that targets drivers who text message, talk on cell phones or engage in other distracted driving behaviors.
HB 1127 is the product of the “Ought to Be a Law” competition. The teenage texting legislation was developed by high school students in the Tampa Bay area and sponsored by Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, who runs the contest.
Another student campaign was initiated at a Nova University branch in Davie: “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 one of the students involved in the “Stop Texting and Telephoning in Cars” project.
Miami-Dade commissioners in early December 2008 approved a plan to ban drivers from use of cell phones and all other wireless devices in school zones. The state Legislature and governor must approve the ban.
The text-messaging legislation is given a good chance of success in the Florida legislature, which has yet to approve a single restriction on drivers and wireless communications devices.
Nine bills were proposed during Florida’s 2008 legislative session concerning use of handheld cell phones and/or text messaging devices. None made it out of committee.
The identical HB193 and SB504 died in committee in May 2008. These bills would have prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones or text messaging. They came from Senate Transportation Chairman Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey.
In September 2008, the debate over using cell phones while driving heated up after a truck driver told officers that he’d been on the phone just before hitting a school bus, killing a 13-year-old from Ocala.
In October 2008, Tallahassee Democrat columnist Jim Messer urged text-messaging limits. He wrote:
Last year’s attempt to pass a bill outlawing texting while driving in Florida was opposed, and eventually killed, by big telecom. Why would the telecom industry kill a law designed to protect citizens while admitting that no one should text while driving? We all already know the reason: profit. Worldwide, texting produces revenues of more than $100 billion per year. Any attempt to limit texting, even while operating a moving vehicle, reduces big telecom’s big profits. Sadly, the results were predictable.
Florida’s counties and cities are prohibited from enacting their own cell phone restrictions due to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s direct intervention.
The first attempt to legislate the use of handheld cell phones while driving came in 2002. There has been legislation regarding driving and cell phone phone use each year since.
In 2006, a hands-free bill was rejected by the state Legislature.
The Legislature also refused to allow cities and counties to install cameras at intersections where running red lights is a frequent violation. Legislators said it’s a “privacy issue.”
“Florida lawmakers said while they agreed the issue needs legislative attention, they would need more data and more details before considering a specific bill,” the Gainesvillle Sun reported.
“You already see people at red lights text messaging or punching in things into their BlackBerries when they should be paying attention,” said Rep. Charles “Chuck” Chestnut, D-Gainesville. “Now, you’re going to see more eyes focused on their iPhones than driving. With the increase in new technology, I think there should be some type of increased regulation to protect the safety of innocent people who are giving their full attention to the road.”
Florida is one of several states that have seen email hoaxes about cell phone laws. A bogus email that circulated last summer said, incorrectly: “As of 08/01/07 cell phone use must be ‘hands free’ while driving. Ticket is $285. They will be looking for this like crazy — easy money for police department.”
From the Highway Patrol: “We’re seeing more drivers doing an actual variety of tasks other than driving. This is from balancing your check book right on down to watching a DVD movie that’s plugged into an accessory plug on the dashboard even though the law says not to do it,” spokesman Lt. Mike Burroughs said. “People are doing a myriad of other things other than driving, and they don’t see anything wrong with it.”
The Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles says cell phones are frequently cited as factors in serious accidents, but has not taken a position on hands-free legislation.