TAMPA, Fla. - When News 6 started our Driving Change campaign last fall, to bring awareness to Florida’s weak enforcement of the ban on texting and driving, it was, to say the least, an uphill climb.
On one side, there were Democrats who wanted a stronger law and a change to Florida’s secondary enforcement. Distracted driving kills about nine American every day and injures about 1,000 more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Democrats and safety advocates have said enough is enough.
On another side are Libertarian politicians who have a base belief of “minimum government (and) maximum freedom" -- meaning, leave it the way it is and let the people govern themselves.
And then there’s a third side: African-American members in the House and the Senate who are afraid that a stronger texting law would mean more opportunities for racial profiling by law enforcement officials. Why give cops another excuse for racial profiling?
Caught in the middle of this political scrum is House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“We were late to the dance,” Corcoran told News 6.
"The dance," in this case, is a movement for safety: politicians waking up to the dangers of texting and driving and taking steps to change their laws.
The Sunshine State has indeed been slow on the uptake.
Forty-three states enforce texting and driving as a primary offense. Just this year, Texas and Iowa passed tougher laws. Texas went from no law to a primary law and Iowa moved its law from secondary enforcement to primary enforcement.
Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota are the only four states where texting and driving is still enforced as a secondary offense. Three other states, Arizona, Missouri, and Montana, have no restrictions at all.
“There are 40-plus states that have already done this,” Corcoran said. “So, what we wanted to do was look and see.”
Part of that "look and see" was to make sure Florida was moving in the right direction. Corcoran doesn’t want a repeat of the state’s disastrous deep-dive into red-light cameras, which has resulted in an uptick of minor accidents, lawsuits, refunds and a recent call for a statewide repeal.
“I like to go out there and get as much data and information to make sure the decision I’m making on behalf of the people of the state of Florida is the best one,” Corcoran said. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with my colleagues, go through the data (and) make people aware of the information that’s been out there.”
In an exclusive one-on-one interview in Tampa on Monday morning, the House speaker sat down with News 6 and addressed a number of points and concerns regarding HB 33, a bipartisan bill introduced last week by Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. The new bill would make texting and driving a primary offense, giving law enforcement officials the one tool they’ll need to adequately enforce the ban.
“The impetus on both the Senate side and the House side is to (put) a law into place -- a law that actually has teeth and makes a difference,” Corcoran said.
With research in hand and studies from other states, the speaker is 100 percent behind the bill that he believes will end up on the governor’s desk next spring.
At first glance, it looks as if HB 33 simply takes the texting and driving ban enforced as a secondary offense and moves it to primary. But HB 33 is more than that.
The latest effort to strengthen enforcement of the state’s ban on texting and driving has a number of enhancements, including:
· Adding three points to your license for a second offense within five years of the first.
· Adding two points to your license for any texting-and-driving offense in a school zone.
· And adds a whopping six points to your license if the act of texting and driving causes a crash.
Corcoran also made sure the bill addressed the possibility of racial profiling brought up by a number of officials in the House and the Senate.
“I think the biggest issue, and (it's) historically justifiable, is that this is going to allow another venue for people who are not acting principally to pull people over without cause,” he said. “There’s already laws that say you have to have policies in place for your law enforcement officers that protect (people) from that kind of behavior.”
Corcoran singled out News 6 for our work in bringing the problem of texting and driving to light.
“Hats off to you guys,” he told us. “It’s been correctly reported that you guys have made a great impact on making improvements to our state.”
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