10Investigates: Why Florida won't toughen toothless texting & driving laws

The state isn't nearly as strenuous on offenders as most of the rest of the nation.

TAMPA BAY, Florida (first of two parts) It's hard to go a day on the road without seeing some driver distracted by a cell phone. That may have something to do with Florida's toothless texting-while-driving laws, among the weakest in the country.

10Investigates took tough questions to the state's leading legislators standing in the way of making texting-while-driving a primary traffic offense, as 41 other states have done.

Currently, texting-while-driving in Florida is only a secondary offense - one which officers can not pull you over for, unless you are doing something else dangerous.  Additionally, numerous other handheld phone activities remain completely legal while driving in Florida, from taking photos to using the GPS to checking the weather.

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“That’s a useless law; it does nothing," said Bobby Dominguez, the father of Michael Anthony Barberio, who was 21 when he was killed by a suspected distracted driver in 2008.  "(Florida's law) does nothing. It doesn’t force people to think about their actions; there are no consequences.”

Barberio was enlisted in the Navy as an aspiring nuclear engineer.  And even though his death was nearly nine years ago now, his family says the pain is repeated every time another family loses someone to a distracted driver, potentially because of Florida's toothless texting laws.

Right now, an officer can only cite a driver for texting behind the wheel once he/she witnesses another illegal and potentially deadly driving mistake first.  And the ticket for texting is only $20, with zero points on a driver's license.
 
Nearly 3,500 Americans were estimated to be killed in distracted driving crashes in 2015, and the number grows each year.  But Tallahassee leaders don't appear poised to tighten Florida's texting laws in 2017.
 
“I would like to make the roads as safe as possible," House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) told 10Investigates.  "You need to have evidence (the laws are working in other states); let’s look at what those other 41 states are doing.  You can come with an objective answer:  is this good policy for our state or bad policy for our state?”
 
Corcoran, whose blessing is all-but-required for new laws to advance through the House, says his office is currently looking at studies from other states with texting bans.  But the data is poorly-kept, and several studies have suggested conflicting impacts of texting-while-driving bans.
 
"It’s a balancing act...of civil liberties and safety on the roads," Corcoran said.

But law enforcement leaders have been asking the legislature for years to tighten up Florida's texting laws to give them a tool to combat the dangerous behavior.

"If we want to protect our children and we want to protect our family members, than this should be a primary stop so the officer can pull you over (and) either give you a warning or write that citation to say ‘stop using (your phone,)" said St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway.
 
Holloway called the current law "unenforceable" and the $20 fine a non-deterrant.
 
"Until you see some type of consequences from this, (drivers are) going to continue to use that phone.”
 
Meanwhile, several Florida 2017 texting and driving bills appear stalled out, without lawmakers willing to give the bills a hearing.
 
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.
Senator Party Address Social

Brandes, Jeff

Parts of Pinellas
Republican District Of fice:
9800 4th Street North
Suite 200
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
(727) 563-2100
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Galvano, Bill

Parts of Hillsborough, Manatee
Republican District Office:
1023 Manatee Avenue West
Suite 201
Bradenton, FL 34205
(941) 741-3401

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Grimsley, Denise
Parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas
Republican District Office:
295 E. Interlake Boulevard
Lake Placid, FL 33852
(863) 465-2626
(813) 233-4277
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Latvala, Jack

Parts of Pinellas
Republican District Office:
26133 U.S. Highway 19 North
Suite 201
Clearwater, FL 33763
(727) 793-2797
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Lee, Tom

Parts of Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk
Republican District Office:
915 Oakfield Drive
Suite D
Brandon, FL 33511
(813) 653-7061
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Rouson, Darryl
Parts of Hillsborough, Pasco
Democrat District Office:
535 Central Avenue
Suite 302
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 822-6828
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Simpson, Wilton

Parts of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco
Republican District Office:
4076 Commercial Way
Spring Hill, FL 34606
(352) 540-6074
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Stargel, Kelli
Parts of Lake, Polk
Republican District Office:
2033 East Edgewood Drive
Suite 1
Lakeland, FL 33803
(863) 668-3028
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Steube, Greg
Parts of Charlotte, Sarasota
Republican

District Office:
722 Apex Road
Unit A
Sarasota, FL 34240
(941) 342-9162

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Young, Dana
Parts of Hillsborough
Republican District Office:
1211 N. Westshore Blvd.
Suite 409
Tampa, FL 33607
(813) 281-5507

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State Rep. County(s) Represented Social
Ahern, Larry Pinellas Facebook
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Albritton, Ben DeSoto, Hardee, Polk Facebook
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Boyd, Jim Manatee, Sarasota Facebook
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Burgess Jr., Danny Pasco Facebook
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Burton, Coleen Polk Facebook
Combee, Neil Polk, Osceola Facebook
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Corcoran, Richard Pasco Facebook
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Cruz, Janet Hillsborough Facebook
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Diamond, Ben Pinellas Facebook
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Gonzalez, Julio Sarasota Facebook
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Grant, James "Jamie" Hillsborough, Pinellas Facebook
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Gruters, Joe Sarasota, Manatee Facebook
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Harrison, Shawn Hillsborough Facebook
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Ingoglia, Blaise Hernando Facebook
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Killebrew, Sam Polk Facebook
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La Rosa, Mike Polk, Osceola Facebook
Latvala, Chris Pinellas Facebook
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Mariano, Amber Pasco Facebook
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Massullo, Ralph Hillsborough Facebook
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Miller, Alex Sarasota Facebook
Newton, Wengay Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, Sarasota Facebook
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Peters, Kathleen Pinellas Facebook
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Raburn, Jake Hillsborough Facebook
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Raulerson, Dan Hillsborough Facebook
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Shaw, Sean Hillsborough Facebook
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Spano, Ross Hillsborough Facebook
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Sprowls, Chris Pinellas Facebook
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Toledo, Jackie Hillsborough Facebook
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