News 6 anchor Matt Austin testifies for distracted driving bill

'I am not here as a journalist today, I am here as a father'

By Kelly Pepperman - Producer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The state House version of a new distracted driving bill had its first committee meeting Tuesday.

The state Senate adaptation (SB 76) was approved around 4 p.m. Monday by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Wilton Simpson, amended the bill to remove the requirement of hands-free enforcement and instead make the violation a primary offense.

Meantime, the House bill's sponsors, state Reps. Emily Slosberg and Jackie Toledo, are expected to make the same amendment for HB 107.

News 6 anchor Matt Austin has been one of the most outspoken proponents of the bipartisan bill. In September 2016, he was rear-ended at a stoplight by a driver who admitted to police he was texting behind the wheel. Austin told his story during a transportation and infrastructure subcommittee meeting Tuesday in Tallahassee. 

“This whole crisis we have in our state right now of texting and driving wound up in my back seat,” Austin said.

Austin was knocked unconscious during the crash. The force of the impact sent his child’s car seat into the back of his head, an injury that required 10 staples. When he woke up, Austin described being in a state of confusion and said he had trouble dialing 911. The father of three told the committee Tuesday his daughters are almost always sitting in the back seat.

“I am not here as a journalist today, I am here as a father,” Austin said.

The driver in this case was not ticketed. Under the new bill, law enforcement officers would be allowed to cite drivers for texting behind the wheel. As it stands right now, drivers must be pulled over for a separate offense before being ticketed for texting.

Floridians won't get a new distracted driving law yet as this is the third of four committee stops for the bill before it is voted on by the full Senate.

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