Too many Floridians take the privilege of driving for granted and do not recognize the responsibilities that come with getting behind the wheel. Texting and driving is one of the deadliest forms of distracted driving on the roadway, yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates at least 660,000 drivers use their cell phones behind the wheel every day. Thanks to lawmakers pushing for more stringent texting while driving laws in Florida, the state recently announced a new safety bill. Although it was indefinitely postponed and died in an Appropriations Subcommittee on March 10th, it could come back in the next voting cycle.
In 2014, more than one-fourth (26%) of all car accidents involved cell phone use. Distracted drivers kill at least nine people and injure 1,000 more every day. Texting and driving is the most dangerous form of driver distraction, as it involves all three distraction types: visual, manual, and cognitive. Passing laws that prohibit texting while driving is an important step toward states reducing and stopping this trend. Florida is one of 47 states to pass texting while driving laws – but it’s one of just four states that don’t have primary enforcement.
When Florida passed its Ban on Texting While Driving Law, it made texting a secondary traffic offense. As a secondary offense, officers cannot pull drivers over solely for texting behind the wheel. Instead, an officer must pull the driver over for a different traffic offense, such as speeding or red-light running, to issue a citation for texting. Many have criticized the law for this reason, as it makes it more difficult for police to enforce the law and punish offenders. The new Florida law would be tougher on drivers, making it a primary traffic offense.
Had Senate Bill 90 passed this year, it would have revised Florida’s Ban on Texting While Driving to allow law enforcement to stop drivers and issue citations solely for texting while driving. State Rep. Emily Slosberg, a major proponent of the new law, believes the reform would address distracted driving and decrease Florida’s motor vehicle collision death rates. Her support for the bill is somewhat personal – in 1996, a speeding driver killed her twin sister in a crash that killed five people. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass the Florida Senate.
The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee voted seven to one to pass the bill back in August 2017, where it moved all the way to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development until it came to a halt. Sen. Rob Bradley stalled the bill indefinitely over concerns that it would lead to privacy concerns and an increase in racial profiling.
A 2014 study found that officers stopped Florida’s black drivers almost twice as often as white drivers to enforce the seatbelt law, supporting Bradley’s belief. If the bill reaches the Senate again, it may contain new provisions that make it mandatory for officers to inform drivers of their right to decline a cell phone search, as well as require police to track the ethnicities of drivers they stop for texting and driving.