Tough questions for politicians blocking tougher texting & driving laws

Originally posted on Feb. 21, 2017: Florida is one of only nine states not cracking down on texting and driving.

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.

PART 1: Florida's weak texting laws remain unchanged

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.
 
Advocacy group Stop Distractions also provided 10Investigates with a number of recent studies that showed texting bans may have reduced crashes and injuries.
 

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

 

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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