Put down those cell phones -- texting and driving could become a primary offense under a new proposal up for consideration during this year’s legislative session.
Under the bill, HB 33, sponsored by Reps. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, texting and driving would become a primary offense, which means Floridians could get pulled over if they’re found typing on their phones behind the wheel.
Texting and driving is currently a secondary offense in Florida, which means drivers have to be pulled over for breaking the law in other ways -- like speeding or not wearing their seatbelts -- to be whacked for texting and driving.
If the bill becomes law, Florida would become the 41st state in the country to ban texting and driving. State legislators have tried to pass the measure for years, but without much success.
In 2015, Florida saw over 45,000 distracted driving crashes, 39,000 of which resulted in injuries and 200 fatalities. The current fine for texting and driving is $30.
Rep. Toledo said her own personal experience as a parent led her to file the legislation, which has already garnered the support of House leadership.
“As the mother of five children these numbers are as frightening as they are compelling,” said Toledo about the crash statistics. “As an engineer the data is crystal clear. And as a legislator, my goal is safer streets and the rule of law.”
Rep. Slosberg said she believed the bill was a good first step to making Florida roads a safer place for everyone.
She has been advocating for driving safety for months and previously sponsored a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense for drivers 18 and under in school zones, but her fellow lawmakers did not approve the measure.
“Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the 'Texting While Driving Ban' as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries,” Slosberg said. “I've been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”
Slosberg’s connection to driving safety is personal as well -- in 1996, she was injured and her twin sister was killed in a car crash when the driver was speeding.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, announced his support of the measure Wednesday morning.
"Texting and driving presents a real, life-threatening danger to Floridians both on and off the road. The data is overwhelming and the need to act is equally compelling,” Corcoran said. “We're proud to unveil a bill that does just that while also addressing legitimate civil liberties concerns.”
A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, is making its way through that chamber.