An update to Florida’s texting while driving law is drawing both support and criticism, as it passes its first committee. While Florida has already had distracted driving laws in place, state representatives felt that a new upgrade to the laws was needed. The committee meeting passed the provisions on Tuesday.
Kelly Mear is just one Florida resident hoping to see the upgrade to the law implemented soon. She explained that she lost a close friend, Anthony Branca, in a 2014 car accident, when he was struck by a distracted driver. Mear says Branca is missed by all of his loved ones, adding that his death was a reminder of the dangers presented by distracted drivers. Ms. Mear added that she feels it’s the responsibility of the community and the government to make the roads safer by regulating distracted driving.
Currently, distracted driving is a secondary offense in the state, which means police cannot pull a driver over specifically for texting while driving. The driver must commit another offense, such as speeding or reckless driving. The new provisions would make texting while driving a primary offense.
The new provision was introduced by Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) as a means of giving police better control over the growing problem of distracted driving. Slosberg has previously sponsored other safe driving laws.
“As a victim, who was almost killed in a car crash and who lost a twin sister in a car crash, I don’t want another family to go through what my family went through,” said Ms. Slosberg.
Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), who co-sponsored the upgrade to the law, says the proposed amendment brings greater balance to the struggle between public safety and individual freedom. Ms. Toledo said she’s supporting the bill out of concern for safer streets, adding that she’s a mother of five children herself. She wants to help establish safer roads for everyone’s children, she said in a statement.
The New Upgrade Meets Some Opposition
The biggest concern over making texting while driving a primary offense is in recognizing that smartphones are used for a variety of purposes. Many fear that police will abuse the power or mistakenly pull drivers over for using their GPS apps. The concern is that police won’t be able to tell the difference, leading to erroneous citations.
Rep. Wengay Newton (D-St. Petersburg) is more concerned over an abuse of power, particularly in relation to racial profiling. He says interactions between police and people of color are already resulting in violent encounters and the new law would just give police one more excuse to pull people of color over.
William Smith, a 30-year veteran with the Florida state police at Miami-Dade and President of the Florida Highway Patrol chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, says race is rarely a concern for traffic stops. As a motorcycle officer, Smith says it’s easier for him to look at drivers, before pulling them over, but adds that race never contributes to his decision to make a stop.
“…me personally, it’s about what they’re doing wrong, not who they are or whether they’re black, white, or Hispanic. It’s what they’re doing wrong. That’s what I look at,” said Smith, after explaining that the new law will make it easier to deter distracted driving.
There’s still a long course, before the bill will be passed as a law. When it reaches the House floor, it will have the backing of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, so it’s expected to pass in the 2018 session. Previously, it has already passed in the state senate.