Texting While Driving Ban Moves Along in Florida Senate

Senate Transportation Committee passes it, hurdles remain.

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:32 p.m.

LAKELAND | A bill prohibiting Floridians from texting while driving passed the Senate transportation committee Wednesday, though many hurdles remain before the legislation ever becomes a reality.

Sentate Bill 416, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, easily passed with a vote of 10-0. Sen. Rhonda Storms of Brandon, whose district includes a portion of Lakeland, serves on the committee.

A similar bill filed last year by Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, died in committee along with several other proposed bills seeking restrictions on the use of wireless communications devices while driving.

The newest version now must clear the Senate committee on communications, energy and public utilities before proceeding to the budget committee.

A House companion bill, HB-299, has yet to move through the committee process.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws, according to a Florida Senate summary of the "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law."

Only a handful of states, including New York and Connecticut, make it illegal to talk on hand-held cellular telephones while driving.

Florida's efforts to outlaw texting while driving is an offshoot of a national campaign that has ties to a traffic death in Polk County.

Heather Hurd of Davenport was killed Jan. 3, 2008, while riding with her fiance to Walt Disney World to plan their wedding.

Hurd's father, Russell, a resident of Maryland, has worked ever since to influence legislation in Florida and other states that have yet to ban cellphone use while driving.

In Maryland the texting ban is known as "Heather's Law."

The driver of a tractor-trailer responsible for Heather Hurd's death was distracted by his company's electronic messaging device.

SB-416 makes an exception for interpersonal communications that do not require manual typing.

A first violation would be punishable as a nonmoving violation, with a fine of $30 plus court costs.

A second violation within five years of the first is a moving violation punishable by a $60 fine and court costs.

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