The Florida Senate is poised to pass a bill that would make roads safer by banning drivers from texting. But a powerful House member, Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, is foolishly blocking the legislation in her chamber. House Speaker Larry Cretul needs to ensure such a significant public safety question comes to a vote before the session's scheduled end on Friday.
Bogdanoff argues that state law already requires drivers to maintain control of their vehicles and that text- ing should only be outlawed when other distracting behaviors, such as applying makeup behind the wheel, are covered. That's a poor excuse for blocking a bill that could save lives.
Repeated studies have shown that texting while driving is as dangerous as driving while drunk. Nearly two dozen states have banned the practice and earlier this year, the federal government banned all interstate truck and bus drivers from texting while driving. In particular, a New York Times' series on distracted driving last year raised national awareness about the danger of texting behind the wheel.
Now Congress, just as it forced states to embrace a higher drinking age and seat belt laws, is considering withholding up to 25 percent of federal highway money for any state that doesn't ban the practice. It may take Washington to force Tallahassee to do the right thing.
But waiting for a federal mandate could cost lives. Florida lawmakers have a palatable compromise before them that would be a good first step (SB 448/HB 41) toward making roads safer.
The plan, which is similar to how the state eased into seat belt mandates, would make it a secondary offense to text or use e-mail on mobile devices while driving. Drivers could not be pulled over just for texting, but if they commit another primary traffic infraction at the same time, such as speeding, their fines would grow. Ideally, Florida would make texting a primary infraction, but this compromise is better than nothing and sets the stage for tougher legislation down the road.
Drivers who engage in texting put themselves and anyone who crosses their path at risk. There is a fundamental public interest in protecting the innocent from such dangerous behavior, and one ignorant legislator should not be allowed to stand in the way of making Florida's roads safer. The House speaker should bring the texting ban up for a vote this week.