Senate passes amended House bill aimed at ending distracted driving

News 6 pushes for distracted driving law in Florida

By Donovan Myrie - Investigative/Special Projects Producer, Brianna Volz - Web producer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - UPDATE: The Florida Senate has passed House Bill 107, aimed at fighting distracted driving, after amending it.

The chamber first amended the bill to make it illegal to hold a cellphone in school and construction zones. The second amendment is to define a construction zone.

This provision was added to HB 107, which would make texting and driving a primary offense.

After the amendments were approved, the Senate voted 33-5 to pass the bill and send it back to the House for approval.

This all comes after the Senate dumped its own bill, Senate Bill 76, and adopted the House bill in an attempt to find common ground between the pieces of legislation so that one will eventually end up on the governor's desk.

The House will now be able to review and vote on the amended HB 107.

"It’s time.  It’s overdue," said Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Dist. 60.

Toledo sponsored the house version of the bill, and she told News 6 on Thursday that she welcomes the senate version, and she expects it to pass.

"Adding the hands-free during school zones in work zones? I think we can all agree that we should put our phones down in those areas," she said.

She said she anticipates a vote coming on the house floor on Monday.
 

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A Florida state senator has filed an amendment to a distracted driving bill seeking common ground to get legislation to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) on Thursday filed an amendment to HB 107 to make it illegal for drivers to hold a cellphone in school and work zones. An amendment to that amendment defines a work zone as "an area of construction (in which) personnel are present or are operating equipment on the road or immediately adjacent to the work zone area."

HB 107, which was passed by the House on Tuesday afternoon on a vote of 104-9, concentrated strictly on making texting and driving a primary offense. The amendment filed by Simpson brings HB 107 closer to Simpson’s companion bill in the Senate, SB 76. SB 76 would have banned the use of cellphones for drivers in all instances, not just in school and work zones.

“This is the process,” Simpson told News 6 Wednesday. “If we’re not open to it, that’s how things don’t get done. We’re open to suggestions and ideals. We don’t have any pride of authorship on these things.”

[TIMELINE:  News 6 Driving Change]

What will this mean for Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State? If this amendment to the bill goes into law, Florida would have a two-tier enforcement system.

  • Tier 1: Texting while driving would become a primary offense. Police would be able to pull over a driver seen texting (or “inputting characters”) on a mobile device. If a person was not inputting characters (say just hitting auto-dial to initiate a call), he or she can show the phone to the officer and make an argument that no texting had occurred.
     
  • Tier 2: Holding a mobile device in a school or work zone would become illegal. This would be known as hands-free and is designed to protect some of the most vulnerable people when it comes to motor vehicle crashes, including school children and road construction workers.

The state Senate could consider the amendment to HB 107; move to debate and then vote on the bill. If that happens, the bill must return to the House for action. The House can then accept the amended version or refuse to concur with the amendment.

HB 107 co-sponsor Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) said she believes her chamber had a good chance of going with the amendment. Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton), the other co-sponsor of the bill, said. “It’s a good compromise.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters that, while he didn’t know all the details of the House and Senate proposals, he supports efforts to make texting while driving a “primary” traffic offense.

“This stuff has got to be enforceable,” DeSantis said. “If it’s a primary offense, then people are going to get pulled over. So, you’ve got to make sure that is going to happen. The more you go beyond texting, I just have concerns about the administrability of it.”

Florida, along with Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota, are the only states in the country that treat texting and driving as a secondary offense. Secondary enforcement means an officer has to witness a driver breaking another law in order to write a ticket for texting and driving. Primary offense means the officer can pull a driver over solely for texting and driving.

The Florida News Service contributed to this report.

 

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