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Drive, don't text: a Florida law whose time has come

We are a state that brought the world military groupies in pearls, new ways to mess up elections and legislation on everything from dwarf-tossing to baring your boxers atop your trousers.

We are Florida, land of dubious distinctions.

Here's a more sobering one: We remain one of the only states in America that does not prohibit drivers who are hurtling down the interstate at high speeds from taking their eyes off the road to type out text messages (hey u want pizza 2nite?)

Which is astounding.

Thousands of crashes, injuries and deaths are attributed to texting and other driving distractions yearly. No less than 39 states already ban texting at the wheel, with five more aimed at new drivers, since teenagers tend to text like the rest of us breathe. No-duh laws, you could call them.

But in Florida, we want government's nose out of our business and our cars. You can pry our cellphones from our cold, dead hands, just as soon as we sign off with a smiley-face emoticon.

Here's how state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Republican from Venice, sees it: "Your freedom stops once you've crossed over into my lane." And if you've ever looked in alarm at a swerving driver in traffic to see his head bent and hands busy with his phone, you may agree.

Her name, she says when I ask, rhymes with "feet hurt," which seems appropriate when you have been around Tallahassee, where a sane and sensible texting bill has had no luck.

Already Detert has filed one for the next session. She hopes to make the act of putting our text conversations on hold so we can drive as routine for the next generation as clicking on a seat belt.

You know, that law that saves lives.

The bill, she says, got stuck between camps: the no-government-in-my-car group, and those on the other side who didn't think it went far enough without banning other distracting behaviors and electronic devices.

But hey, isn't this supposed to be a new day?

Didn't voters recently make clear they are in no mood for petty partisan politics and pledges by people who cannot think for themselves? Obstructionists are out, and the prevailing vibe is: Get it done or get gone.

Already some elected officials are vowing group hugs across the aisle — so far, anyway.

Senate Bill 52 is remarkable in its potential for common ground. It doesn't ban talking on cellphones, just texting. It addresses a concern that a texting ban could be used for racial profiling, an excuse to pull someone over for the color of his skin. Under this bill, police can only add that $30 texting fine after they stop a driver for something else, like speeding.

The law's real power, though, is in taking temptation away.

We are stressed. We are late. Ever texted be there in 5, even at a traffic light? In a AAA report, 94 percent of drivers said texting at the wheel isn't okay — and more than a third said they recently did it themselves. The threat of a ticket can be most persuasive in changing behavior.

Florida lawmakers have let this one linger too long. If they want to shake a dubious history of a bickering Legislature unable to work together for the greater good, a no-duh law to save lives would sure be a start.

Drive, don't text: a Florida law whose time has come 11/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 7:10pm]
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