Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cities May Lose Ability to Limit Car Cell Phones Lawmaker Plans Bill to Block Local Laws

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cities May Lose Ability to Limit Car Cell Phones Lawmaker Plans Bill to Block Local Laws

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- The movement to ban drivers from using cell phones could be halted at least temporarily in Florida.

Lawmakers are considering two identical bills, one in the House and another in the Senate, that would take away from local municipalities the right to create bans on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. The bills also direct state lawmakers not to decide on whether to create an all-out ban until the 2003 session.

Republican Jim Sebesta, sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a committee meeting yesterday that he introduced the measure out of concern that each of the 425 municipalities in Florida could draft unique ordinances.

"You begin to see that this is a bloody nightmare ready to happen," he said.

Sebesta said this pre-emptive measure will avoid a patchwork system of laws and ordinances that would confuse tourists and travelers. Yesterday the Senate Comprehensive Planning, Local and Military Affairs committee became the second committee to support the bill. The House bill, sponsored by Allan Bense, R-Panama City, and Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has been received favorably by one committee.

The bills also require the Legislature to wait until next year before considering a statewide ban because lawmakers will be able to review two years of data collected by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles on crashes involving distracted drivers. In 2001, the department began keeping statistics on the number of such crashes and the distractions that played a factor.

"We changed the crash reporting form to include a category that gives us better statistics," said Robert Sanchez, spokesman for the department.

Numerous Florida cities have explored the possibility of creating a cell phone ban. In September, Miami-Dade enacted an ordinance set to take effect in October. Miami-Dade was supposed to spend the months preceding the ordinance's implementation posting signs and launching an awareness campaign to educate residents and tourists. …

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