Here’s a change of pace: There’s good news coming out of Tallahassee. Though in the past it has made numerous failed attempts to deal with the issue of texting and driving, the Florida Legislature is revisiting the issue — and this time the outlook is rather hopeful. Earlier this month, State Sen. Nancy Detert (R-District 28) filed a bill to create the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law, which made it through a committee vote. Meanwhile, in the House, State Rep. Doug Holder (R-District 74) filed a similar bill and a workshop was held on the issue with a wide range of experts testifying. And with a new legislature this year, it’s possible we’ll see a bill make it to the governor’s desk.
Over the past few years, the legislature has seen numerous “texting and driving” bills start and fail. But this year looks to change that. State Rep. Mark Pafford (D-District 86) is optimistic, noting that it will likely get a fair hearing in both chambers. “This year, there’s a new team in terms of leadership, and I think it will get a fair hearing in both chambers,” Pafford told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “I feel more positive than I have ever felt about it.”
Still, there are many specifics left to work out, and how much teeth the final version will have depends on those specifics. For example, the legislature must define the parameters, deciding whether the ban should include people talking on cell phones, using hands-free devices or other various smartphone features. More crucially, legislators will have to decide whether to make this a primary or secondary offense. This would determine whether a law enforcement officer can pull over a motorist solely for texting (primary), or if a citation can be written only after being pulled over for something else (secondary). Currently, the bills filed by Detert and Holder call for the latter. While we understand this was done to ensure easier passage through both chambers, we’d like to see the final version give law enforcement the proper authority in this matter.
Because texting is especially popular with young people, education plays a central role in preventing tragedy. According to the federal web site Distraction.gov, the under-20 age group has the largest proportion of distracted drivers. To combat that statistic, health and wellness organization Unite started the Arrive Alive Tour (www.arrivealivetour.com), which travels the country visiting schools from the elementary level up through college, using a high-tech simulator, impact video and other resources to educate students about the dangers of texting while driving (as well as drunk driving). The tour is in Palm Beach County next week, visiting American Heritage High School in Delray Beach on Monday and the Palm Beach State College Eissey Campus in Palm Beach Gardens on Wednesday.
The state legislature would do well to pass this legislation, to help prevent more roadway tragedies, but also to score a win in the credibility column. After wasting time and money on needless constitutional amendments last year, this would be a step in the right direction — a necessary law that would immediately begin to save lives.