Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

This Year, Texting Bill May Get Heard

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

This Year, Texting Bill May Get Heard

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE: House seems more amenable to the idea than in past

TALLAHASSEE

For the last two years, Florida House leaders would not even schedule a hearing on a bill to ban drivers from texting, a stance that helped keep the state as one of the most lenient in the nation on the issue.

But in a policy shift, a House transportation panel on Tuesday held a two-hour hearing on distracted drivers, signaling that the chamber may be more receptive this year to legislation banning texting while driving.

Following the hearing by the House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee, Rep. Doug Holder, R-Osprey, said the panel will take up his texting bill (HB 13) as early as next week.

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

"I think that this year is certainly the year," said Holder, who has been advocating for the texting-driving ban since 2008. "I think that we've always recognized that it is common-sense legislation, that it's a no-brainer type of law to be enacted. And certainly by making texting illegal while driving, it will save lives in Florida."

The Senate has been willing to consider legislation in the past, only to see it stalled in the House. Holder said his bill will mirror Sen. Nancy Detert's measure (SB 52), which cleared the Senate Transportation Committee last week. His bill will also make the violation secondary -- meaning drivers will only be charged if they are pulled over for another reason, such as speeding. They would face a $30 fine plus court costs.

Holder, like Detert, said making texting while driving illegal is designed to create a behavioral change, particularly among younger drivers.

"Most importantly we want to make sure that the driver's education teachers are able to tell their students that texting while driving is illegal in Florida," Holder said.

The House panel heard from several experts on the overall issue of distracted driving. The data showed nationally that distracted driver deaths are on the rise, with 3,331 recorded in 2011.

Florida's own statistics are less illuminating, with only one texting death attributed in 2012, though safety officials said the data was "incomplete" since 1,500 of the 2,175 fatalities listed unknown or unspecified causes. …

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