I wasn’t sure the political will existed in Tallahassee to make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida. I am never so glad to be wrong, though.
The House passed the final version of HB 107 by a 108-7 vote, ending a yearslong process to bring a little sanity to the state’s driving laws. All that has to happen now is for Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign the bill, and Florida will be on its way to safer highways.
DeSantis has indicated he supports the ban.
State Rep. Jackie Toledo, the bill’s co-sponsor, was elated, calling distracted driving “an epidemic.”
She is correct.
Everyone knows that distracted driving is a great danger on Florida’s crowded highways. The Sun Sentinel analyzed 3 million Florida car crashes from 2013-16 and reported, in the newspaper’s words, “collisions typical of texting and driving are increasing at a staggering rate.”
We see it all the time, too. Someone is zipping down the Interstate at 70 mph or more, but their eyes on their phone screen and their fingers are tapping the keyboard.
Maybe they’re answering a text from their spouse about who will pick the kids. Or maybe it’s an invitation to a party, or a request to pick up a quart of milk on the way home. Maybe they are checking their fantasy teams, or meeting up with someone for dinner.
The message doesn’t matter.
The action does.
All it takes is one slip, and cars start crashing and spinning like the last lap at Daytona. Or a driver drifts out of their lane, cutting off someone else and triggering road rage.
The law declared texting while driving in Florida was only a secondary offense. Police had to find drivers guilty of another violation like speeding or reckless driving before they could be pulled over and ticketed.
That changes when this new law takes effect on July 1, although fines won’t start occurring until Jan. 1, 2020.
This bill won’t completely stop that right away, but it won’t take long until people get the message. It’s a $30 fine at first, just to get the offender’s attention. The fines escalate with repeat violations.
There were concerns by some African-American lawmakers that black drivers could be targeted under this new law. As a check against that, the bill requires officers to note the race of the person receiving the ticket.
Eventually, this can become just like the mandatory seat-belt law. There were plenty of people who grumped in 2009 when Florida turned wearing seat belts from a suggestion into a requirement, but it saves lives. The texting law is at least as significant to the future health of the state’s drivers.
Technology has turned our cars into rolling entertainment centers, what with satellite radio, blue tooth, electronic maps to guide us to our destinations, and so on. Each step in that direction brings a driver closer to a fatal distraction.
This new law pumps the brakes on that, at least a little bit.
It’s a good day.