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Florida lawmakers hope to send message: Keep your eyes on the road

4:22 PM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
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  • FT. MYERS, Fla. (news-press.com) -- Florida lawmakers have declared a war against texting while driving for the upcoming legislative session by filing seven bills that punish the practice.

    Lawmakers have been trying to place different bans on the use of cell phones while driving for more than a decade. Pressure to pass a measure against texting started to build in late 2012, after Florida's traffic fatalities showed an increase.

    Lawmakers hope that during this legislative session, which begins Tuesday and runs through May, will be the year when Florida joins 39 other states and the District of Columbia in banning texting while driving.

    In 2011, more than 25,000 drivers reported they were distracted when they crashed, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Of that number, however, only 180 reported they were texting.

    Some of the bills filed by lawmakers in the House and Senate go a step beyond banning texting.

    Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is sponsoring a bill that places a complete ban on the use of a cell phone, unless it is with a hands-free device. And Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, wants to prevent anyone younger than 18 from using a phone while behind the wheel - period.

    But tracking crashes where texting while driving is to blame is tricky. Florida Highway Patrol tracks crashes that were the result of distracted driving, but there isn't a separate check box for texting as the cause.

    And distracted driving could mean anything: a woman putting on her makeup or a man having lunch.

    "We would encourage all drivers limit all types of distraction," said Lt. Jeff Frost, of Florida Highway Patrol. "Limit anything that would take your attention away from the roadway."

    Nonetheless, local lawmakers say a ban is needed.

    "I believe it is a common sense law that we need to provide," said Sen. Garrett Richter. "It is very obvious that texting while driving is unsafe and it really shouldn't be done."

    Richter, R-Naples, co-sponsored Sen. Nancy Detert's Senate Bill 52, which places a ban on texting, e-mailing and instant messaging while behind the wheel. The law would pass as a secondary offense, which means a driver cannot be pulled over just for texting.

    By Cynthia Roldan, news-press.com

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