Last Summer, the criminal case of a Massachusetts teenager became national news when he was sentenced to two years in prison for causing an automobile accident that resulted in severe personal injuries and death while texting and driving. According to reports I have found, Florida remains only one of five states left that does not have some type of statute on the books that specifically prohibits texting and driving. Although one might be able to make the argument that causing serious personal injury or death while texting and driving rises to such a large degree of “gross negligence” that it is also “criminal negligence,” it has not been codified in statute.
I wanted to research why the Florida legislature has not prohibited texting while driving, and what I found is that the legislature has not entirely ignored the issue, it just has not been able to get anything out of committee and into law. In fact, over a dozen bills have been introduced before dying on the vine. For example, last year HB 299, to be known as the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law,” did not make it out of committee, and it’s official status on the House website is “Died in Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee.”
This year, in 2013, it looks like the Florida Senate has introduced Bill 52, the latest attempt to legally ban texting and driving. I read quickly through it to try to get to the “meat” of the proposal, and after perusing all the reasons that texting should be illegal, was drawn to this part:
(4)(a) Any person who violates paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.
(b) Any person who commits a second or subsequent violation of paragraph (3)(a) within 5 years after the date of a prior conviction for a violation of paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.
(bolded emphasis added by me)
In other words, the Bill does not create a criminal offense for texting while driving, but a moving violation. I suspect there are critics that this bill does not go far enough, but at least it’s a start, and would also empower law enforcement to pull someone over that is clearly endangering the public safety when it is observed that a motorist is texting behind the wheel.
I would point out that studies have been done that show that texting while driving can be as hazardous as drunk driving. It is time for the Florida Legislature to get something out of committee and into law. Given that SB 52 is still alive, and comes up again for committee discussion in two days on April 4, 2013, a compromise should be reached that results in making texting while driving illegal, even if for now it is only a moving violation.