Crist Calls for State Ban on Texting While Driving
Gov. Charlie Crist gave a green-light Tuesday to banning texting-while-driving, adding his support to an idea already drawing a pile-up of legislation.
“I think it would provide some safety for our people,” Crist told Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Julie Jones.
Jones acknowledged her department is tracking some 13 bills already filed by lawmakers that alternately ban texting or cell-phone use while driving, or require head-sets behind the wheel.
Jones said the department is waiting for lawmakers to hone in on some kind of consensus legislation before weighing in. But she assured Crist, “we assume (a texting ban) would be part of our legislative package.”
The News Service of Florida reported last week that legislation barring motorists from texting or using cell-phones has proliferated this year – after languishing for the past seven years since the first measures were filed.
Last spring, proposed restrictions on motorists using cell-phones or texting didn’t even draw a committee hearing. But the issue is now emerging as one of the hottest topics among lawmakers, whose bills on the subject seem to be emerging with the frequency of new cell-phone applications.
Three of the bills’ sponsors also are candidates for statewide office: Sens. Carey Baker and Paula Dockery, Republican contenders for agriculture commissioner and governor, respectively, and Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.
Along with some kind of prohibition on handhelds, Jones said DHSMV also is proposing that lawmakers consider creating a new law prohibiting what she termed aggressive driving.
The proposal would allow for stiffer fines, enhanced points on a driver’s license, and mandatory traffic school for motorists ticketed for two or more offenses occurring simultaneously. She said a speeder who is also following another vehicle too close could receive a summons for aggressive driving, under the proposal.
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said the tougher sanctions will probably result in higher insurance rates for scofflaws.
“I bet your insurance company’s not going to like it, either,” Sink said.
Cell phone use and texting while driving are among the most frequently cited distractions affecting drivers involved in a serious auto accidents, DHSMV has said. Jones said the frequency of accidents involving motorists on a phone are what’s likely inspiring lawmakers who previously turned a deaf ear to such legislation.
“We’ve had a number of fatalities associated with texting, and the department has had a number of initiatives to create a safer driving environment for teens,” Jones said. “And I think we have a number of legislators who have had a situation in their areas, and they’re reacting to that.”
Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation banning texting while driving. Six states and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held phones while driving.