New bill cracking down on distracted driving recalls death of Logan Scherer, 9

The bill proposed by state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, would ban the act of touching or holding a smartphone while driving.
Published December 17 2018
Updated December 17 2018

TAMPA — It's been more than two years since 9-year-old Logan Andrew Scherer died in a massive pileup on Interstate 75 that authorities said was caused by a distracted driver.

Still, his parents speak about their son Logan in the present tense, as if his absence from their lives was due simply to a long piano lesson or a trip to Walt Disney World with friends.

The Riverview couple says it’s just one way they keep their son’s memory alive — a pursuit that became the parents’ full-time job with the creation of the “Living for Logan Foundation” last October. The nonprofit’s goal is to help state legislators pass legislation penalizing distracted drivers.

For now, those efforts are solely focused on passing a new bill filed by Rep. Jackie Toledo on Monday in response to the Scherers' advocacy work.

The couple joined the Tampa Republican at a news conference held about 90 minutes after Florida House Bill 107 was officially filed. The proposal would not just ban texting, but even the act of holding or touching a smartphone while driving.

“This bill is a hands-free ban, so it doesn’t matter what you’re doing,” Toledo said. “It’s physically touching and holding the phone that would be against the law.”

Brooke Scherer applauded Toledo's bill, and said she hopes it will one day serve as a “living legacy to Logan, because his death cannot be in vain.”

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Grieving parents turn tragedy into a cause: Stop texting while driving

Also attending the news conference were Hillsborough County school board members, the head of the Parent Teacher Association and school Superintendent Jeff Eakins.

The school district supported the 2013 legislation that became Florida's current law, too, Eakins said. "But now it's time to put the penalties in place and to empower law enforcement so if anyone ignores that law they know they will pay the price," he said.

That’s because Florida is one of just four states where texting while driving is considered a "secondary offense," which means a driver can't be pulled over by an officer simply for texting on their cell phones.

Driver's can only be cited for texting while driving if they were pulled over for committing another “primary" offense. Even then, the state penalty for texting while driving is a $20 citation that doesn't add any points on a driver's record, Toledo said.

Under her proposed bill, she said a driver could be pulled over by an officer for distracted driving just by holding their cell phones while behind the wheel. That’s all the proof an officer would need, eliminating the need for the driver’s phone to be searched for proof that it was being used while driving — which critics have blasted as an intrusive violation of civil rights.

Such concerns have helped kill previous attempts to make texting while driving a primary offense, including a bill Toledo filed last year that gained near unanimous support in the House but was never heard in the Senate. This year, Toledo's bill was filed alongside an identical bill in the Senate. Senate Bill 76 was also filed Monday by Sen. Wilton Simpson.

Forty-six states have laws on the books that make texting while driving a primary offense, and 16 have enacted a similar "hands-free" ban, Toledo said. House Bill 107 was modeled after similar legislation in Georgia that became law in July. In the first month the new law was in place, Toledo said Georgia saw a 25 percent reduction in vehicular fatalities, she said.

In Florida, where officials counted more than 50,000 crashes caused by distracted drivers in 2017, Toledo said a similar law could save hundreds of lives.

Logan lost his life, authorities say, when Gregory Andriotis slammed into the back of the family’s Mazda SUV while driving more than 100 miles per hour in September 2016. The 9-year-old was killed, while his father, mother and 5-year-old sister were all hospitalized.

"We share our story because we don't want anyone to experience what we went through, the pain of a grieving parent," Brooke Scherer said. "But we also don't want anyone to find themselves in the horrible position of being responsible for the death of a child because you were doing something that so many of us are guilty of doing on a daily basis without even thinking.

“No text, no phone call, could be worth that risk."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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