Florida lawmakers unveil new bill to make texting and driving primary offense

Rep. Slosberg credits News 6 efforts for driving change

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers introduced a new bill Wednesday that would make texting and driving a primary offense.

For more than 14 months, News 6 has spearheaded an initiative to drive change in Florida's ineffective texting and driving law. Last year, News 6 anchor Matt Austin was injured in a crash involving a distracted driver. Law enforcement currently needs to have another reason to pull drivers over before citing them for distracted driving.

House Bill 33 was filed this morning by Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) and co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton).

The new bill offers something previously failed bills have not: protections for concerns about privacy and racial profiling.

As a teen, Slosberg was severely injured in a crash that killed her twin sister. She said she has been contacted by constituents with stories of "parents dying, kids dying and it is time that we take action."

Slosberg has previously spoken to News 6 about her efforts to end distracted driving.

"I honestly credit Matt Austin and the incredible reporting News 6 has done on distracted driving through the Driving Change Initiative," Slosberg said.

[Share your distracted driving story with News 6]

Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran is one of the biggest names supporting the bill. Corcoran had not previously backed similar bills introduced in years prior, but said years of research and data could not be ignored any longer.

"We have 50,000 crashes as a result of texting and driving," Corcoran said. "We have over 200 deaths in '15 and '16. And then we looked at the other states."

What does the bill do?

Lawmakers said the bill protects civil liberties because officers would be required to obtain a warrant to access a driver’s phone and to inform the driver of his or her right to decline a search of the phone. 

HB 33 strengthens the current ban on distracted driving by increasing the current offense from secondary to primary. Law enforcement officers would be able to pull over drivers who they suspect are texting.

A first offense would remain a non-moving violation with a $30 fine, plus court fees. Any offense after the first would carry a $60 fine plus court costs, reaching up to $158, with three points added to the driver's license.

Any distracted driving leading to a crash would be an additional six points. Offenders in a school safety zone will receive two more points.

Check back for updates and learn more about our efforts to drive change in Florida's distracted driving laws at Clickorlando.com/drivingchange.

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