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As texting while driving ban takes effect, Jackie Toledo hopes to change driver behavior

“We fought hard this legislative session to make sure that we change this behavior.”

Beginning Monday texting while driving will get Florida motorists pulled over.

State Rep. Jackie Toledo was on hand Monday morning at the Tampa Police Department headquarters in downtown to address the new law, which she co-sponsored.

“We’ve all done it,” Toledo said. “But this year we fought hard this Legislative Session to make sure that we change this behavior.”

Under the new law, law enforcement officers who observe a motorist texting while driving can pull them over and write a ticket for the offense. Tickets for a first offense are non-moving violations that carry a $30 fine.

That ticket does not place points against a person’s driving record. Subsequent offenses within a five-year period carry a $60 fine and drivers will incur three points on their license. 

“We are going to start with warnings,” said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan. “But there might be some instances where we issue a citation – depending on the circumstances.”

The texting while driving ban applies only to texting. Holding a phone to talk or using a phone’s GPS is not illegal. 

However another provision not taking effect until October 1 bans any cell phone use at all in a school or active work zone.  That part of the law will be enforced on a probationary basis until January 1, meaning only warnings will be given until next year.

“I’m a mother of five and it pains me. I am so worried about our children on our roads everyday especially in these very vulnerable areas,” Toledo said. 

There were more than 3,000 traffic fatalities in Florida last year, Toledo said. She hopes the new law will keep drivers and others who use the roads safer.  

“If an officer can reasonably, with a degree of certainty, tell that someone is texting while they’re driving, they are going to be pulled over and, at a minimum, given a warning. People need to be more disciplined,” Dugan said. 

“These vehicles, when you look at the weight that they carry, it’s like a loaded gun. And if we’re not careful and we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing, then you’re going to end up killing somebody.”

The Hillsborough County School Board is also celebrating the new law. The school district is the third largest in the state.

School Board Chair Tamara Shamburger said the law will protect the 90,000 students who ride the bus as well as those who walk, ride a bike or get a ride to school in a car. She said it also helps new drivers be safe drivers.

“When you develop the right driving skills and the right driving habits from the very beginning, it will serve you for a very long time,” Shamburger said. 

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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