Texting while driving bill passes first hurdle in Florida House committee vote

HB 33 would make distracted driving primary offense

By Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A committee of Florida lawmakers unanimously voted on Tuesday to pass a bill that would make it illegal to text while driving in the Sunshine State.

On Tuesday, the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee voted on House Bill 33, filed in December by Rep. Jackie Toledo, (R-Tampa), and co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, (D-Boca Raton).

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."

After three hours and testimony from 50 people and organizations in support of the bill, HB 33 passed by a vote of 14-0, moving the legislation on to the first step to becoming a law. It was the first of three committees the bill needs to pass to make it to the floor and ultimately to Gov. Rick Scott's desk. 

Florida lawmakers began the first season of 2018 this week by focusing on the state budget, tackling the opioid crisis and making preparations for future hurricanes.

This bill strengthens the current ban on distracted driving by upgrading from a secondary offense to a primary offense, meaning that law enforcement officers can pull drivers over if they see them texting and driving.

[Share your story: Have you been affected by distracted driving?]

Last year, the same subcommittee killed a similar bill over concerns on how the change could lead to racial profiling. The updated bill this year includes language requiring officers to tell the driver they don't have to hand over their phone.

The change was enough to secure a unanimous vote Tuesday.

After the vote Slosberg reacted praising the "Driving Change" movement.

"That we got an unanimous vote this is huge this is a decision that will affect every single Floridian and our guest, it is very difficult to get legislation like this passed," Slosberg said. "The 'Driving Change' initiative has been instrumental in bringing a team up to Tallahassee to speak with all the legislators, doing interviews, making noise."

On Wednesday, the companion Senate bill will go before a Senate committee.

News 6 has been working to get results and make Florida's roads safer for more than a year as part of our "Driving Change" initiative to make texting and driving a primary offense, instead of a secondary one, as it is now.

Last year, lawmakers told News 6 anchor Matt Austin that they didn't have the data to back up the need for such legislation.

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