Legislature tries again to make distracted driving a primary offense

Lawmakers hope some new details, including some extra privacy protection for drivers, will help make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the State House of Representatives filed a new bill to make distracted driving a primary offense. Currently, police can’t pull people over for the offense, but can ticket for it if the person’s been pulled over for another infraction.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes and Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, are leading the charge with the newest version of the bill.

“We are seeing that it is becoming a really epidemic problem with the under-30 set specifically. You can’t drive down the roads now without looking around and seeing somebody who is texting and driving. So, this is huge for the state of Florida and protecting our citizens,” said Corcoran.

However, this is not the first go at changing the distracted driving law.

The current rules went into place in 2013, making it a secondary offense, and since then lawmakers have made attempts every single year to create a tougher law. Each attempt has failed though.
Slosberg, who lost her twin sister to a car crash in 1996, said this attempt will try to fix some of the hang-ups previous bills have hit.

One of the largest concerns privacy of drivers, and more specifically of their phones.

"It requires law enforcement to tell a driver that they're not required to hand over their phone,” said Slosberg.

Slosberg said just the glow of the phone or the actual visibility of it in someone’s hand should be evidence enough for cops to ticket a driver. She said the driver can then take the matter to court if they wish to do so.

Florida Highway Patrol Spokesperson Kim Motes said Wednesday that troopers see distracted driving all of the time but essentially can’t do anything about it. Montes believes even current statistics on the matter likely don’t reflect the full picture, because they can’t even report distracted driving as the cause of an accident unless they have absolute proof.

She said making distracted driving a primary offense would be an essential tool. 

Glenn Victor from the Florida Safety Council agrees. He said while making it a primary offense won’t fix the problem overnight, he does think it will make a difference.

"It'll be a deterrent,” said Victor. “Drivers will know, this is against the law - I can be pulled over and get fined, and deal with all the mess that comes with that."

The bill goes before the state legislature in January.