Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Supporters hope this is year for ban on texting while driving

TALLAHASSEE — Steve Augello's daughter died in a 2008 car accident after a driver who had been texting veered into her car.

Months later, the Spring Hill resident came here, like many grieving parents before him, asking for a law to banish what he says led to the grief. For him, it's text messaging while driving.

"I don't want to see any parents suffer the way we are," he said.

Statistics supported his case, but still Augello left Tallahassee disappointed. And not for lack of trying: No fewer than 10 bills prohibiting text messaging or cell phone use while driving died in 2009 without even a committee vote.

To understand why is a lesson in Florida politics. State Senate President Jeff Atwater explained: "There is a sense that Americans have a responsibility to monitor their behavior." Others blame the power of special interests or lack of time in the legislative session.

This year, supporters promise, is different. This year, they say, the bill will pass.

A few indicators give supporters hope. More and more lawmakers are hearing tragic stories about deaths attributed to texting while driving, particularly crashes involving teenage drivers, and are getting on board. Lawmakers introduced 17 bills on the topic this year. At least 35 representatives and senators are sponsors or co-sponsors — or more than 20 percent of the Legislature. And a few months ago, Gov. Charlie Crist announced his support.

"Florida is ready to say we are no longer going to tolerate this irresponsible activity," said state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, one of the early proponents who saw his legislation collect dust for the previous two years. "This year is a different year."

In recent months, studies have emerged that show how it contributes to deaths and wrecks. One released in July from Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute found that drivers of heavy trucks were 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash if texting, and, for all drivers, reaching for an electronic device increased the likelihood of an accident sixfold. At least 28 states have limited texting while driving.

All this momentum led to a breakthrough Tuesday: the promise of a House workshop on the various bills, scheduled for next week. The move is a precursor to a committee debate on the bill, which is a precursor to a committee vote. More committee debates and votes would follow before the full House could consider a bill. And all this must occur in the Senate, too. But still, it's the first time this legislation has gotten such a serious review.

"Nobody could argue you can drive safely while texting," said Kevin Bakewell with AAA Auto Club South, one of the many groups supporting the effort.

Roadblocks still remain and supporters compare the texting-while-driving measure to a bill last year that made seat belt use mandatory — legislation that took 10 years to pass because of concerns about intruding into people's private lives.

"The communications industry is very powerful, and up until (texting) started causing accidents … they were very concerned it wouldn't stop there," said Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, at a news conference Tuesday introducing the "Arrive Alive Act" with Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. "It's not just about personal responsibility it's about public safety."

Rep. Gary Aubuchon, who will spearhead the workshop as chairman of the House Roads, Bridges and Ports Policy Committee, wants a consensus measure to emerge. This won't be easy given that the bills diverge on a number of issues. Should it apply to everyone or just teenagers? Should police be able to stop drivers for texting? Or is it just a secondary offense? Are there exceptions for usage? What penalty is appropriate?

"Each House member will have an opportunity to present their bill and why their ideas are the best ideas," said Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral. "The idea is to distill the best thoughts and bring something forward."

But as for predictions about whether it will pass the House and Senate this year, experienced lawmakers are cautious.

"It's impossible to know," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a supporter. "When you think something is dead, it gets resurrected in the waning hours of session. When you think a bill is going to pass no problem, all the sudden it gets stopped in its tracks."

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

This story was changed to reflect the following correction:

Steve Augello's daughter died after a driver who had been texting veered into the path of her car. A story incorrectly reported who had been texting.

Supporters hope this is year for ban on texting while driving 02/09/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 9:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Sign up for our daily News at Noon email newsletter


    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  2. Tampa Bay child welfare agencies get additional state funding, plan to hire more social workers


    TAMPA — Buoyed by the award of an additional $3 million in state funding, Eckerd Kids plans to hire more social workers to ease the strain on Hillsborough County's overburdened child welfare system.

    The child welfare system in Hillsborough County will get an additional $3 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal  year beginning July 1, according to Eckerd Kids, the agency contracted to run the system by the state.
  3. Bill Nelson knocks Rick Scott over Senate health bill


    Sen. Bill Nelson attacked Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 rival, over today's trip to Washington.

  4. For starters: Rays at Pirates, with Hechavarria active, Robertson sent down


    UPDATE, 3:26: And the Rays indeed have Hechavarria at SS and Beckham at 2B. Also, with no DH Dickerson is in left.

    Rays lineup:
    Smith cf,
    Dickerson lf,
    Longoria 3b,
    Morrison 1b,
    Souza rf,
    Ramos c,
    Beckham 2b,
    Hechavarria ss,
    Cobb p

    The stellar view from the press box at PNC Park.
  5. LaVar Ball appears at WWE event, son LaMelo uses slur


    LOS ANGELES  -- LaVar Ball has brought his Big Baller Brand from the basketball court to the wrestling ring. 
    The outspoken father of NBA Draft No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball showed up with the newly-minted Los Angeles Laker and another son, 15-year-old son LaMelo, for a live segment on Monday's "WWE …

    LaVar Ball took off his shirt during a WWE broadcast.