TAMPA BAY, Florida - (second of two parts) With public support - and 10News Facebook fans - overwhelmingly in support of tougher texting-while-driving laws, Florida continues to lag behind the rest of the nation when it comes to regulations related to handheld devices.
Florida is not one of the 41 states where officers can pull you over for texting behind the wheel, and it is not one of the 14 states that ban all handheld device use while driving.
Instead, Florida is one of five states where sending a text message while driving is a secondary traffic offense. That means officers can only write you a ticket ($20 in Florida with zero points) for texting while driving if they also pull you over for something else illegal - and potentially deadly - first.
10Investigates took tough questions to Florida's leading lawmakers, including those described by Tallahassee insiders as "roadblocks" to toughening the state's weak texting laws.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) and State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) both listed a litany of reasons Floridians probably shouldn't expect any changes to the texting law in 2017, but three themes stood out:
1) Concern that texting bans may not make roads safer
"At the end of the day, you want to make sure that texting & driving primary laws work," Brandes told 10Investigates. "In many states, we’re not seeing a reduction of accidents.”
Brandes, one of the state Senate’s leading players on transportation, points to a 2010 report that suggested texting bans may have encouraged drivers in four states to drive worse, by hiding their phones in their laps more, therefore taking their eyes off the road longer.
But there are also numerous conflicting studies that suggest cell phone bans reduce hospitalizations and fatalities. And using a phone in one's lap would be illegal as well in the 14 states with complete bans of handheld devices.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran also expressed some doubt about data, but said his office is looking into what other states have seen.
"Let’s look at what those other 41 states are doing," Corcoran said. "You can come with an objective answer: is this good policy for our state or bad policy for our state?”
However, distracted driver data is notoriously poor, as police are often left to driver's honesty when arriving to an accident scene.
2) Concern over civil liberties
Corcoran said legislators have to balance a Floridian's right to operating a phone with safety on the roads.
However, Florida already has primary bans on drinking & driving, and it mandates seatbelt use.
When asked why making texting a primary traffic offense was any different than requiring seatbelts, Corcoran seemed to miss the mark on his understanding of existing Florida laws.
Corcoran said there was already a primary offense on the books for "distracted driving," which would give officers leeway to pull over a texting driver, but there is not in Florida.
3) Concern over police abuse & profiling
Brandes said his concern about tougher texting laws was that Florida currently allows drivers to use cell phones for GPS, phone calls, checking weather, and any other number of activities...but officers might try to conduct traffic stops for activities that are ultimately legal.
“Creating a situation where law enforcement can pull you over for any reason will lead to all kinds of negative consequences," Brandes said.
When asked why it was any different than the state's seatbelt ban, Brandes had trouble explaining.
"The major difference...is people (get pulled over for not) putting on their seatbelt. But (with texting)," Brandes said, "(officers) can just pull you over because they see you have a phone in your hand.”
St. Petersburg's police chief, Anthony Holloway, says concerns about unfair stops and profiling were unfounded.
"You know, we don’t profile," Holloway said. "If you see the person next to you using a cell phone, you’re going to pull them over."
Holloway called the state's current texting laws unenforceable since officers have to wait for drivers to do a second illegal activity before they can initiate a stop.
"We need that tool in our toolbox so we can educate our people...at least people (would) know, you may get a ticket. It may be an expensive ticket. So pull over, take a half a second, and stop texting.”
To contact your local lawmaker about texting & driving bills, find your elected officials, by address, with this useful tool. Then, find their contact info below.
Parts of Pinellas
|Republican||District Of fice:|
9800 4th Street North
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Parts of Hillsborough, Manatee
1023 Manatee Avenue West
Bradenton, FL 34205
Parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas
295 E. Interlake Boulevard
Lake Placid, FL 33852
Parts of Pinellas
26133 U.S. Highway 19 North
Clearwater, FL 33763
Parts of Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk
915 Oakfield Drive
Brandon, FL 33511
Parts of Hillsborough, Pasco
535 Central Avenue
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Parts of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco
4076 Commercial Way
Spring Hill, FL 34606
Parts of Lake, Polk
2033 East Edgewood Drive
Lakeland, FL 33803
Parts of Charlotte, Sarasota
Parts of Hillsborough
1211 N. Westshore Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33607