TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (WSVN) - A bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense has unanimously passed its first hurdle in Florida’s House of Representatives.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee approved House Bill 33, which would give officers the authority to stop drivers they see texting while behind the wheel.
Florida is currently one of only a handful of states where officers cannot pull over drivers for texting while driving.
Right now, distracted driving is considered a secondary offense in Florida, meaning officers can only issue citations for texting if the driver is first pulled over for other offenses.
HB 33 aims to change the laws, making distracted driving a primary offense. This would allow police to ticket drivers who text without needing another reason to pull them over.
“This will prevent the actual behavior of texting behind the wheel,” said Rep. Emily Slosberg (D – Boca Raton), the co-sponsor of the bill with Rep. Jackie Toledo (R – Tampa). “Because right now, it’s completely unenforceable as a secondary offense.”
After passing the first subcommittee, HB 33 must still clear two more panels.
Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says nearly 50,000 crashes in the state were caused by distracted drivers in 2016, including 233 deaths.
According to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Research, distracted drivers increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times, taking their eyes off the road for an average of 23 seconds total.
“You see it every day when you are out driving – people texting. It has become part of our culture,” Slosberg said. “It is time for the Legislature to send a message that we will no longer accept this deadly behavior on our roads.”
The Miami Herald reports that 14 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit the use of mobile devices by drivers at all times, while only a handful of states, including Florida, list texting and driving as a secondary offense.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran told WTSP that it’s time for the state to get tougher in order to make roads safer for all drivers.
“Ninety-two percent of all drivers admit in the last thirty days to texting and driving,” Corcoran told the station. “So if we can curb that behavior, and eliminate 200-plus deaths and 50,000 accidents [from Florida roads], it’s going to be a great benefit.”
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