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Florida House likely to pass texting while driving bill

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TALLAHASSEE, FL -

The Florida Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would make texting a secondary offense, meaning police would have to stop the vehicle for another offense, such as speeding. Florida is currently one of only five states without a ban on texting.

A first violation is a $30 fine, plus court costs. A second or subsequent violation within five years adds three points to the driver's license and a $60 fine. And if texting causes a crash, that's six points. Points lead to increased insurance rates. There are additional penalties for driving while texting in a school zone.

Texting while driving is "equivalent to drinking four beers very quickly and getting behind the wheel of a car," said Rep. Doug Holder, the Venice Republican sponsoring the bill. "We're losing people every single day because they're texting while driving and they're distracted while driving."

The ban includes typing a text or reading a text while driving. It includes tablet computers as well as mobile phones, but excludes using a "talk-to-text" feature. And it allows texting while stopped at a red light.

The bill allows the use of phone records in defense against a ticket, for instance. But some phone companies' records don't differentiate between manual texting and talk-to-text messaging.

A companion bill (SB 52) is in the Senate. A ban is supported by AT&T, the AARP, AAA, trial lawyers, businesses and state law enforcement groups. The House bill next goes to the Appropriations committee, Patronis said.

According to a preliminary report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 256,443 reported crashes in 2012. In 4,841 of those crashes, a driver had been texting or otherwise using an "electronic communication device" while driving.

Drivers who text take their eyes off the road for almost 5 seconds, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the trucking industry. At 55 mph, a driver can cross the equivalent of a football field while not looking.

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have texting-while-driving bans for all drivers.

But a 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, which looks at insurance claims, said crashes didn't go down in states that banned texting by drivers. In fact, it found that reported collisions went up slightly. The researchers guessed that bans are making a bad situation worse by causing drivers, knowing it's illegal, to move their phones down and out of sight when they text. That takes their eyes even further away from the road.

 

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