The Florida House on Monday passed a compromise bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense, as well as create a hands-free area within school zones and construction zones where workers are present.
The bill, House Bill 107, now heads to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who is expected to sign it into law.
The House’s passage came just a few days after the Florida Senate passed the bill with added language about school and construction zones that now requires drivers to use hands-free devices if they want to talk on their phones in those areas.
The Senate voted on Thursday and then sent it back to the House.
Current Florida law, passed in 2013, only allows officers to cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for some other violation. This bill will allow officers to stop motorists simply for texting or using a handheld phone in prohibited zones.
It was supported by businesses, industry and law enforcement organizations that make up the FL DNT TXTNDRV COALITION.
Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and a member of the coalition, said Florida is one of eight states that saw a nearly 6% spike in fatalities in 2018, with driver behavior being one of the main reasons for lives lost in car crashes.
“This good public policy would go a step further in protecting Florida drivers and lowering insurance costs by making texting while driving a primary offense,” McFaddin said.
If signed, the bill will take effect July 1, 2019, but changes will be phased in. Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019, law enforcement officers will issue only verbal or written warnings to violators. As of Jan. 1, 2020, officers will begin issuing citations to violators.
People who are issued citations can have three points assessed against their driver’s license, however, first-time offenders can elect to participate in a wireless communications device driving safety program and, upon completion, have costs and points waived by a court clerk. First time offenders can also have their cases dismissed by county clerks if they show proof to the court they have purchased wireless communications equipment that enables their device to be used in a hands-free manner.
The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to record the race and ethnicity of a violator when issuing a citation and report that information to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The requirement was added in an effort to guard against racial profiling.
“Today, Florida took a giant step forward towards saving lives and making our roads safer,” State Representative Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), who sponsored HB 107 in the Florida House, said Monday. “Distracted driving has become an epidemic and I thank my colleagues in both the Senate and House for passing this much needed common-sense legislation.”
Advocates of the new texting while driving ban, also praised the passage of the bill.
“Despite all the data and the tragic stories of lives lost, drivers continue to ignore the reality that texting and driving kills. By making texting a primary offense that can get you pulled over and held accountable for your action, this bill has the potential to finally change behavior for the better,” said NAMIC Regional Vice President of the Southeast Liz Reynolds.
Phone use while driving has become an epidemic across the country, according to a study published by Zendrive last year. It’s study found even in the then-14 states that have banned handheld phones behind the wheel, phone usage had increased.
From December through February, Zendrive technology monitored 4.5 million drivers who traveled 7.1 billion miles, comparing the results with the year-earlier period. Roughly two out of three of those people used a mobile phone at least once. Among those who picked up their phones, they used them for an average of almost four minutes—a 5 percent increase from the previous year.
“Legislation, by itself, is clearly not enough,” said Zendrive founder Jonathan Matus.
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