Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Wrong Message on Texting

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Wrong Message on Texting

Article excerpt

Legislature ignored bills focused on highway safety

A bill that sought to ban texting while driving "died in Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee," according to the Florida House of Representatives' web site.

How ironic.

In other words, proposed legislation intended to improve safety on Florida's highways, roads and streets wasn't even brought to a vote in a subcommittee responsible for highway safety.

A similar bill in the Senate at least got a hearing in a budget committee, where it was endorsed 14-1. But it unceremoniously "died on calendar." That's another phrase for: The bill wasn't put to a decisive vote.

No irony there, but a disregard for safety and growing public sentiment.

House Bill 299 (filed by Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota) and Senate Bill 416 (filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota County) proposed to create the "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law."

The name of the proposed law sounded ominous, but it was only a moderate step toward deterring people from sending text messages -- via cell phone key pads -- while driving.

The bills would have sensibly allowed officers to ticket texting drivers -- under limited circumstances. Officers investigating crashes could have obtained cell phone records to determine if texting contributed to the wrecks; points would have been assessed against a motorist's driver's license for texting that resulted in a crash.

'Stop weaving into my lane'

There was nothing radical about the bill. Florida is one of only 15 states that don't ban texting while driving. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states ban the use of all "portable electronic devices" -- those used for texting, web-surfing, instant messaging and phone conversations -- by drivers.

The Detert/Pilon bills would not have banned cellphone use. Enforcement of the texting ban would have been "a secondary action." As a result, law enforcement officers would only have been able to cite drivers for texting if they were stopped for some other offense.

Despite the moderate approach, key legislators didn't give the bills a hearing -- prompting Detert to give one of the best quotes of the annual legislative session: "I wish they would hear it. Then they would understand it's a secondary offense. It's strictly texting. I'm not trying to take the cellphone out of your cold dead hand. I'm just saying stop weaving into my lane."

Detert's not the only one annoyed by texting that leads to erratic driving. The Consumer Reports' National Research Center recently surveyed 895 Americans and asked them to rank "20 common driver gripes" about fellow motorists.

The complaint ranked as the most annoying was "texting on a cell phone while driving." Texting by other drivers ranked 8.9 on a 1-to- 10 scale, with 10 meaning the behavior is "tremendously" annoying. …

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