TALLAHASSEE — This looks like the year Florida will outlaw texting while driving.
The Florida Senate unanimously passed a texting-while-driving ban Tuesday and sent the legislation to the House for approval.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who has sponsored the bill for four years, said texting while driving "needs to stop, this is the year."
SB 52, approved 36-0, makes texting while driving a secondary violation, which means a motorist would have to commit another offense, such as careless driving, in order to be pulled over. Once stopped, a driver could receive two tickets, one for the first infraction and one for texting.
The bill restricts the use of any handheld device designed to receive or send text or characters. It would include iPads as well as cellphones.
The penalty would be $30 for a first-time texting offense, a nonmoving violation. A driver would pay a $60 fine and be assessed three points if caught texting while driving again within five years, with more points added if the violation is in a school zone or another serious offense. Texting would be allowed in hands-off, high-tech cars and when a car is stopped at a red light or in a traffic jam.
"Everyone is in support of this bill," Detert said. "The general public supports it by 89 percent. We really don't need the statistics. … We see it every day as we drive."
Detert credits House Speaker Will Weatherford for allowing the bill to be heard in the House. This will be the first time representatives have had the chance to vote on the measure, which has cruised through committees this session.
"I am very confident that it's going to happen this year," said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, sponsor of the House bill, which awaits a floor vote.
Holder said he believes that years of deficit budgets, when the focus was on cuts and finding resources, didn't help efforts to pass a texting-while-driving ban. Now, "there's nothing out there that leads me to believe it's not going to happen," said Holder, who worked with Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, for nearly five years to get legislation passed.
Detert has said the governor indicates he's "willing to sign it, too, so hopefully we're home free this year."
The texting problem, Detert said, has become an "epidemic," with 11 teenagers dying every day in the country due to texting. Florida is one of five states without any type of texting ban.
"The bill is long overdue," said Minority Leader Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. "We've lost too many young people, too many people in general."