Put down those cell phones and save your texting and web surfing for later -- texting while driving could become a primary offense if legislation from two Republican lawmakers passes through the Florida Legislature this year.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would change current Florida law to make texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, texting while driving is only a secondary offense, which means a driver must be breaking the law in another way to get ticketed for texting at the wheel. Primary offenses could include speeding, reckless driving, or running a red light -- all of which could lead to a secondary offense.
Because texting while driving is only a secondary offense, it means not as many people are cited for it -- only 1800 tickets were given out for texting and driving last year.
Only five states currently list texting while driving as a secondary offense.
Rep. Perry said the bill was important to discourage people from texting while driving, possibly endangering themselves and others from being distracted. He, too, admitted he was guilty of the same crime, but admitted he believed those caught with their phones in hand should be properly punished.
“It was a debate for me whether or not I wanted to take the bill on, but it’s so important and if I get a ticket, then I get a ticket, I need one and I deserve one,” he said.
Texting while driving has been outlawed in many states already, with some even restricting talking on cell phones while driving for drivers under the age of 18.
“Think of other disasters or incidents, aircraft disasters, where you lose two or three hundred lives. And it’s horrific,” said Sen. Altman.
Altman said the public has become “insensitive” to texting while driving, a problem which claims 3,000 lives a year in Florida.
The joint legislation has yet to be considered for the 2016 legislative session. This week wraps up committee weeks before all bills head to the 2016 regular legislative session which begins in January.
Each bill filed has to pass at least three committees before it can reach the House and Senate floors. Altman’s version of the bill has to be heard in four committees.
Other lawmakers proposed similar legislation earlier this year during the 2015 regular legislative session -- a bill sponsored by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would have made texting while driving a primary offense as well as double the fines for texting while driving. Sachs has revived the latter portion of her earlier bill in a separate bill for the 2016 legislative session, but the legislation would only apply to school zones.
The current fine for texting while driving is $30.