The Florida Legislature has finally passed a bill which aims to cut down the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers who attempt to text while driving. Two Florida senators have tried for years to put their version of a bill before the State Senate, only to see the bill fail at the first hurdle.
The proposed bill hardly seems tough, especially compared to many other states. Drivers who use mobile devices, like cell phones, for making calls or texting, are estimated to cause around one in four of all accidents in Florida. This is a number six times greater than driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Florida already has a ban on using a cell phone to make a voice call, and yet the simple step of making texting while driving illegal – an activity which is over twenty times as likely to cause an acident as using a cell phone for voice calls – has received stiff oposition from many Florida’s legislators.
The bill that has just been passed is unlikely to be too much of a disincentive for serious texting while driving offenders. The fine proposed is a paltry $30 for first time offenders. The two stalwart senators who have been submitting a version of their bill for so long had aready compromised on the final details of the proposed legislation. Those who are caught texting while driving will only be charged in Florida if they have been charged for another offense at the same time.
Florida’s stance on this legislation stands out when compared to the majority of the other states in the country. The only four states which have still failed to implement texting while driving legislation are Hawaii, Montana. South Carolina and South Dakota. Senators Nancy Detert and Doug Holder from Sarasota have pointed out that the populations of these four states are far lower than Florida’s and the number of vistors to this state, which is often a reflection of the need to communicate by cell phone, is also a lot higher.
A change in the law to prohibit texting while driving is certainly a popular one amongst Floridians – opinion polls have consistently shown strong support for such a ban.
These facts make it more unfortuante that Florida should be so slow to act on such an important cause of motor vehicle accidents in the state.
The legislation which passed on the next to last day of this year’s session was in doubt until almost the last minute. An amendment filed by another senator meant that enforcement by police would be watered down significantly. The amendment stated that privacy concerns – the ability of police to use access to drivers’ text messages to prosecute – would be infringed. The amendment means that police will only be able to use direct observation of a driver texting if a charge is going to be made.
Over at the House of Representatives, this session’s reading has seen an actual real debate about the bill being allowed for the first time by the current Speaker. It is expected that Florida Governor, Rick Scott, will sign off on this bill at long last, and no doubt it can be strengthened in future, although Florida’s public may have to wait for real progress just as long as they did this time.