At The Pittman Firm, we've been closely following the progress of Florida's potential ban on texting while driving. Our Panama City distracted driving injury law firm sees the terrible tragedies that result from inattentive driving, including texting behind the wheel. As such, we are glad to share the News Herald's report that the state legislature drew closer to approving a statewide ban on texting-while-driving with last week's 16-1 vote by the House Economic Affairs Committee, clearing the bill. HB13 now moves to the House floor as a companion bill, SB52, works its way through the State Senate.
Pursuant to HB13, texting while driving would be a secondary offense in Florida, meaning a law enforcement officer would first need to stop a driver for another violation before issuing a texting citation. Notably, in 2009 the legislature approved primary enforcement of seatbelt violations, formerly an example of a secondary offense in the state. A violation of the texting law would include a $30 fine (plus court costs) for a first-time violator and $60 (plus court costs) and 3 license points for a second or subsequent violation in a 5-year period. Additional penalties apply if texting causes an accident or if a violation occurs in a school zone. The bill's ban covers both typing and reading texts on mobile phones or tablet computers. It excludes the use of "talk-to-text" technology and permits texting when stopped at a red light.
Rep. Doug Holder, the bill's sponsor and a Republican from Venice, said that people are dying every day as a result of texting and other forms of distracted driving. He added that texting behind the wheel is the equivalent of someone driving after drinking 4 beers in quick succession. Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles released a preliminary report that 4,841 of the 256,443 reported crashes in Florida during 2012 involved a driver who had been texting or otherwise making use of an "electronic communications device." Another source cited by the Herald noted that texting takes a driver's eyes off the wheel for 5 seconds, which sounds brief but is long enough for a driver travelling at 55mph to travel the distance of a football field. Florida's texting ban has the support of AAA, AT&T, trial lawyer groups, businesses, and state law enforcement organizations.
Florida's proposed texting ban has been stalled for years due to opponents concerns about advancing government intrusions in the lives of private citizens. Panama City Republican and Economic Affairs Committee chairperson Jimmy Patronis cast the sole vote against the bill in the committee. He said he continues to worry the ban is overly intrusive. However, he declined to exercise a power that would have allowed him to essentially kill the legislation entirely, stating that he believed it belonged to the entire House and that he did not want to put his own agenda above the people's verdict.
Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia have texting bans covering all drivers (versus only minors). At least one study questioned the efficacy of the bans, finding collisions actually rose slightly following a ban. Researchers speculated that drivers continued to text but hid the action by moving their phones down, thus taking their eyes off the road for a longer period.
Our office supports efforts to prevent distracted driving. We believe this requires a range of efforts including legislation, enforcement, and education. Legislation alone will not solve the problem, but we do believe enforcing texting bans will prove effective over time, and we will continue to follow the progress of Florida's proposed ban. We also believe in protecting the victims of distracted driving by representing them in civil court. If you have been injured by a driver who was texting behind the wheel or otherwise distracted, please call our Panama City car accident injury lawyer.