Florida was one of the last states in the country to impose sanctions on motorists who text while driving, but critics call the current law essentially toothless. Now a Republican member of the Florida House from Tampa wants to go much further in the name of public safety, proposing legislation that would prohibit motorists from holding a cell phone at all while driving.
Currently, texting while driving in Florida is a “secondary offense.” That means a law enforcement officer must see another violation taking place before they can cite a driver for texting.
47 states currently impose bans of some sort on motorists for texting while driving, but according to the National Conference of State Legislators, only three states consider it a secondary offense. Florida is one of them.
Under the proposal filed on Monday by state Rep. Jackie Toledo, law-enforcement officers will be able to pull over Florida motorists for texting and driving or for talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. “Distracted driving can have deadly consequences, and it’s time we finally address this public safety crisis,” Toledo said in a press conference on Monday. “Children like Logan Scherer of Riverview would be alive today if drivers would put down their phones and concentrate on the road. This bill will hopefully act as a deterrent and make our roads safer.”
Scherer was nine years old when authorities say he was killed in 2016 by a distracted driver who slammed into the back of his family’s SUV on I-75.
This is the second bill already filed in the House on texting and driving in advance of the 2019 legislative session, which starts in March. Boca Raton Democrat Emily Slosberg filed a similar measure last month. Toledo filed a similar bill last year, where it passed overwhelmingly in the Florida House (112-2) but didn’t pass the Senate.
For 2019, Pasco County Republican Rep. Wilton Simpson has filed a companion measure In the Florida House.
“We all know that using the phone while driving is a serious distraction,” Simpson said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Representative Toledo to combat distractions behind the wheel of a moving vehicle for the sake of keeping our roads, constituents and visitors to the State of Florida safe.”
If the Legislature were to pass Toledo’s bill next year, Florida would join California, New York and 14 other states that allow only hands-free cell phone use.