Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
May 4, 2013
TALLAHASSEE — After four years of trying, Sen. Nancy Detert finally won passage Thursday of a bill banning texting while driving.
The bill — with first-offense penalties of just $30 — was never very strict, and it was watered down further by the House, which in previous years had refused even to hear it. But with the Legislature set to adjourn on Friday, the Venice Republican reluctantly urged the Senate to accept it for fear it otherwise might die. The final vote was 39-1.
"For the first time ever, they have a speaker over there that allowed the members to speak on this bill. That was the good news," Detert told the Senate. "The bad news was I didn't like what they said."
The bill, SB 52, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, whose spokeswoman said he would review it. Scott has not indicated publicly what he thinks of the bill.
Florida is one of a handful of states that don't ban texting. But Detert's bill falls far short of what anti-texting groups had sought.
It bans manual texting only while driving, but allows it for drivers stopped in traffic or at traffic lights. And it's a "secondary" offense, meaning a driver would have to be pulled over for some other violation, such as careless driving, to get a texting ticket. Even then, a first offense is $30 plus court costs, rising to $60 for a second offense.
The House weakened it even further this week with an amendment saying law enforcement could not look at a driver's cellphone to seek evidence of texting unless there was an accident with injuries or death.
Detert opposed the amendment but decided she had no choice but to accept it. Otherwise, the bill would have had to go back to the House on the session's final day.
"Basically, this bill is still a good bill. It still will allow parents today to say to their kids, 'Don't text while driving. It's against the law,'" Detert said. "It really will save lives, and it boils down to it's either against the law or not."