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Senate Committee Gives Green Light to Toughen Texting While Driving Law

March 30, 2015 - 6:00pm

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, wants to make Floridas roads a safer place for drivers, and shes putting her weight behind a bill to crack down on texting while driving to do it.

SB 246, sponsored by Sachs, would make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida as well as increase the fines associated with it. The legislation would double fines if a driver was texting while driving in a school zone or school crossing.

In Florida, the fine for texting while driving is $30.

Texting while driving is currently only a secondary offense in the Sunshine State, which means drivers have to get pulled over for another offense like speeding or running a red light in order to be ticketed for texting while driving.

Because of this, not many texting while driving citations have been issued in Florida -- a problem which Sachs and supporters of the legislation say needs to be changed.

Committee members heard tearful testimony from some of SB 246s supporters, who have been advocating for the bill in hope of preventing accidents or even death.

"Please act now, or there will be more senseless deaths, said Patricia Viccaro. Viccaros son, Garrett, was killed after a man looking at his phone hit him on a bridge with his car.

Viccaros experience isnt necessarily uncommon.According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, one person was injured every 75 seconds due to an accident involving a distracted driver.

The statistics go on and on -- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 24 percent of all crashes involve cellphones.

According to Sachs website, car crashes in her home county of Palm Beach jumped by over 20 percent from 2011 to 2012 as a result of texting while driving.

Forty-four states currently ban texting while driving and list it as a primary offense.

As a mother and as someone who is in a position to help other families, I think it is imperative to make sure [the ban] works, said Sachs, who became emotional while speaking about the legislation. And it works as a primary offense.

Other senators said they werent sure why Florida hadnt joined the countless other states that had already made texting while driving a primary offense.

I'm frankly kind of embarrassed that it's still not a primary offense, said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. Every year that this goes by that we don't make this a primary offense, shame on us.

Changing the law, said Bradley, should be a no-brainer.

This has got to change because it's just wrong it's so obvious that this should be the law." he explained.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email atallison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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