As Florida drivers on Tuesday faced a new law banning texting while driving, state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, unveiled a proposed bill that would toughen the existing law.
Under current law, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning that law enforcement authorities can't pull over a driver simply for texting; they must spot another violation. Sachs wants to change the law to make texting while driving a primary offense.
The penalties would remain the same — $30 for the first violation — but Sachs' bill would make it easier for law enforcement to ticket drivers.
Sachs released her proposed measure at a news conference at AutoNation in Fort Lauderdale. She cited multiple statistics about the dangers of texting while driving, an offense she described as more deadly than drunken driving.
"Using a cellphone while driving a motor vehicle is more dangerous than drinking alcohol, especially for young drivers," said Sachs, a former prosecutor who represents coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths, according to Sachs, who noted that texting while driving is six times more likely to cause death than a DUI.
"Every single day in 2011, 11 teenagers were killed in motor vehicle accidents because of mobile phones," Sachs said.
Citing federal data, Sachs said that it takes on average 4.6 seconds for a driver to receive or deliver a text. "(If) you are driving 50 miles per hour, you are covering a football field blind."
The texting-while-driving ban, Sachs said, will change the culture of motorists. She compared it to the spike in seatbelt use following laws in the 1980s that made it a violation not to wear a seatbelt.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said that his office will focus its initial efforts in school zones.
If drivers are caught, Israel said, police won't confiscate cell phones but they will obtain texting records when investigating car crashes.
The texting-while-driving law is new in Florida, but a majority of states have imposed such a ban for years.
Persuading Sachs' fellow lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass her bill won't be easy. It took five years for the Legislature to approve the current bill. It passed the House and Senate by large margins earlier this year.
When asked why she thought she could get a tougher law approved, Sachs said, "This is a first step."