1. Opinion

Your texting liberty ends at my rear bumper

Published Jan. 30, 2012

This would seem to be right up the Florida Legislature's alley — a no-brainer of an issue.

And yet Tallahassee seems poised to ignore the will of more than 70 percent of Florida voters who support a ban on texting while driving. Perhaps this is what happens when Florida pols find themselves in the hip pocket of the Android cartel.

How hard should this be?

Until a few years ago, motorists managed to get from Point A to Point B without having to use a texting device or a cellphone.

And yet, simply because the technology exists, drivers now feel compelled to tweet, text and gab away while behind the wheel. Maybe, just maybe, if these communications involved the fate of the free world, or working out that final calculation to cure cancer, or negotiating a hostage release, an argument might be made for the necessity to drive and multitask.

But we all know that blabbering away over the new Bucs head coach, or how yummy lunch was, or the latest sale at Macy's, hardly qualifies as high-toned discourse worth risking life and limb.

Jeepers, most Florida drivers with the attention span of a newt have a hard enough time figuring out what that turn signal thingy is for without further complicating things by typing a letter while hurtling down I-275.

Last year, 2,218 crashes occurred in Florida because some roadway dope was distracted from the task at hand — driving — by using some form of electronic contraption. And at least 145 of those mishaps involved texting while driving.

The proliferation of texting toys on the road has become so ubiquitous, the National Transportation Safety Board has equated the dangers of distracted motorists to drunken driving. Who knows how many of those 2,218 crashes also involved a besotted driver who was either talking on a cellphone or texting.

For the past few years, state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has attempted to pass legislation making it illegal to text while driving. She'd probably have more success in proposing a ban on deer hunting.

This year, Detert managed to get through several Senate committees a highly watered-down version of her texting ban that would allow for a motorist to be cited for tapping away only if the violation occurred in conjunction with some other primary offense such as speeding, running a red light, or causing a crash. Seems reasonable enough.

And most Floridians would agree. A recent Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll concluded that some 71 percent of Floridians support a texting while driving ban.

But even Detert's tepid, stripped-down, bare-bones effort to bring a scintilla of sanity to the roadways appears has yet to reach the full Senate. It also appears doomed to failure in the House, largely because House Speaker Dean Cannon sees the measure as an assault on personal freedom for citizens to kill each other while texting poetic over Aunt Hortense's recipe for Spam Surprise.

"I've got some personal liberties concerns," Cannon, R-Give Me My Blackberry Or Give Me Death, explained in defending the right of every Floridian to become more of a roadway risk than Gene Hackman in his car chase scene in The French Connection.

By Cannon's tortured illogic, ban texting while driving and it would only be a matter of time before those black helicopters start hovering.

The Patrick Henry of the iPhone is worried about the texting ban's impact on regulating individual behavior. By that standard, can one assume Cannon would abolish state law mandating motorists use seat belts? Would he eliminate state law requiring safety seats for small children? Would it be okay to just toss the tot into the back seat to — in the spirit of liberty and individual behavior — fend for his or herself?

Clearly, banning texting has police state written all over Detert's tyrannical commie-inspired legislation.

Oddly enough, Cannon was nowhere to be found on the ramparts defending personal freedom and liberty when his House last year passed a bill forcing women to subject themselves to an ultrasound before undergoing a perfectly legal abortion, which you have to admit is an act of individual behavior.

Nor did Cannon wrap himself in the mantle of personal liberty when the House also passed a measure making it illegal for a doctor to ask a patient about weapons in the home, before a federal judge struck down the law on the highly technical legal grounds that it was stupid.

Detert's proposal was destined to be heavy lifting. Committing common sense in Tallahassee always is.