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Texting and driving may soon be a stronger offense in Florida

A proposed bill would make it so that law enforcement officers could pull somebody over for texting while driving. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE 

The issue of texting and driving has been a major one since mobile phones became popular, and over the years lawmakers have taken measure to try to minimize the negative effects it can have. The Florida legislature is looking to take another step toward restricting phone usage while driving.

Currently, under Florida law, somebody who’s texting while driving can get ticketed for it, but only as an additional fine if they’re pulled over for something else. However, House Bill 33 would make it so that law enforcement officers could pull people over for being on their phones while driving.

The bipartisan bill, proposed by USF alumnae Jackie Toledo (R) and Emily Slosberg (D), has over 40 signed supporters and was passed by the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee unanimously on Jan. 9.

The House bill focuses on “non-voice interpersonal communication,” which would also include emailing and instant messaging, but does not extend to the use of a GPS or a stationary vehicle. 

It maintains the current repercussions of at least $30 for first time violations and subsequent violations carrying at least a $60 fine with three negative points added to their license. 

While the bill still has a multiple committees to go through before reaching the House floor, support for it has been overwhelming.

“Forty-six other states have already made texting while driving a primary offense due to the tremendous loss of life this reckless form of driving can and has created,” Toledo said at a Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting on Jan. 9, where the bill passed. “However, we must also protect a driver’s right to privacy. This bill protects that right by ensure law enforcement officers follow certain protocols during a traffic stop involving a driver who was texting behind the wheel.”

The bill requires the law enforcement officer to “inform the motor vehicle operator of his or her right to decline of search of his or her wireless communications device” while requiring officers to have a warrant to access the device and prohibits them from confiscating the device while waiting for a warrant.

The current law was only put into place last spring with, again, overwhelming support for the matter. 

A counterpart bill is also making its way through the Florida Senate, proposed by Sen. Keith Perry (R). SB 90, which has the backing off four Republicans and four Democrats, has passed through two committees with only one vote out of 13 against it. The one no, from Sen. Kelli Stargel (R), was because she said the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“There are several things in this bill that need to be worked on as it moves forward, and it will be before me at other stops,” Stargel said at the Oct. 24 Communications, Energy and Public Utilities committee meeting where the bill passed. “I applaud what you (Perry) are trying to do. I support you in what you’re trying to do, and I think we need to make sure we get it right. Today, I do think I can support the bill, but I will be working with you to find something that we can support.”

As the Senate bill currently stands, there is nothing that discusses a change from the current repercussions for texting and driving and has the same protocol for law enforcement officers as the House bill.

The Senate bill also states that any fines collected for texting while driving would go toward the Emergency Medical Services Trust Fund of the Department of Health. This is the state-run fund that supports EMTs, paramedics and ambulances.