Driving Change: News 6 gets results with new texting law

Texting and driving now a primary offense in Florida

WKMG-TV News 6, the Graham Media Group-owned CBS affiliate in Orlando, is pleased to announce that after almost three years leading the charge to change the texting and driving law in Florida, a new...

ORLANDO, Fla. – WKMG-TV News 6, the Graham Media Group-owned CBS affiliate in Orlando, is pleased to announce that after almost three years leading the charge to change the texting and driving law in Florida, a new bill has been signed into law. The new law will make texting and driving a primary offense, which allows law enforcement officers to stop motorists who are texting while driving and write them citations. Florida was one of only four states left in the country in which texting and driving was not a primary offense.

“It was a long and hard fight,” News 6 anchor Matt Austin said. “But now, after nearly three years, 100 stories, more than a dozen trips to Tallahassee and thousands of miles driving around Florida to track down decision makers, I'm relieved that Florida politicians finally did the right thing. They made safety a priority."

Austin has been one of the driving forces in changing the law and one of the most outspoken proponents of this new legislation. Together with News 6, his quest to create change began one September night in 2016.

In his car on the way home after the 11 p.m. newscast, Austin was stopped at a red light. Suddenly, there was a blinding blow to the back of his head, and he was knocked unconscious. Hit full force by a driver who never even applied his brakes, Matt was rear-ended by someone who admitted he had been texting and driving. The impact was so forceful that it sent his little girl’s car seat directly into the back of his head. When he regained consciousness, bloody and in a state of confusion, he struggled to dial 911. His immediate thought: My three little girls are usually always sitting in the back seat.

The driver that hit Matt was not ticketed in the crash. The police at the scene said there was nothing he could do under the existing law. While Matt was at home recuperating from a severe concussion and 10 stitches to his head, viewers began asking why he was not on the news desk. He shared his story via social media and the floodgates opened. Matt heard from people who had experienced similar situations, and those who had even lost loved ones. He knew he had to be their voice.

Austin’s journey to drive change began the very next day, a journey News 6 has called “Driving Change.” The initiative's goal was to make texting and driving a primary offense in the state of Florida.

“We started by bringing awareness to the holes in the current texting and driving law,” WKMG’s News Director Allison McGinley said. "Then, we knew we had to share the stories of those who had been directly affected by texting and driving. That included our own Matt Austin, who testified before the Florida Legislature's Judiciary Committee in Tallahassee.”

“This crisis we have in our state right now of texting and driving wound up in my back seat,” Matt said before the committee.

“Matt Austin told his story, and that of many Floridians endangered by those who text and drive, Vice President and General Manager Jeff Hoffman said. “His commitment to see this through over a nearly three-year battle represents the very best of all who get results for WKMG News 6.”

News 6 almost saw a victory in 2017, but bills to toughen the texting and driving law died in both the state House and Senate committees. There was a glimmer of hope again in 2018 when the House overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make texting and driving a primary offense, but it was stalled in the Senate. This year, both the House and the Senate worked to pass a bill to bring Florida in line with the 44 other states. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17, 2019.

“As a local television station, this is the role you hope you can play for the community you serve. You see a problem, and together with your neighbors, you work to solve it. When you can ultimately change laws that can save lives, well, that is what good journalism is all about. That is what being of service to your community is all about,” Hoffman said.

The timeline of Austin’s fight to bring this bill into law can be found at clickorlando.com/drivingchange.