THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 6, 2010 --
A proposal to prohibit message sending while driving has returned in the Senate, with Sen. Evelyn Lynn filing a measure that would bar drivers from sending or reading text messages, E-mails, or other forms of communication.
The bill (SB 80), filed late last month, would make violations a noncriminal infraction carrying a $100 fine. A House version of the measure hasn’t been filed yet. The Senate passed a ban on texting while driving earlier this year, but the House didn’t take up the proposal.
If the bill does get through the Legislature, it’s not clear whether incoming Gov. Rick Scott would be amenable. During the campaign, Scott said he agreed that driving distractions – including “eating fast food,” should be discouraged, but wouldn’t commit to a ban. “I will work with legislators that share my concern to adopt policies that address distracted driving," Scott said during the campaign, but hasn’t been asked about it since.
A study this fall by the University of North Texas looked at national traffic data from the Fatality Accident Report system and texting data from federal officials, and suggested that texting while driving claimed more than 15,000 lives over a six-year period. Researchers also say deaths by distracted driving are the cause of more than 15 percent of traffic fatalities.
More than 220 million Americans subscribe to wireless services – some estimates say more than 90 percent of Americans have a cell phone – up from about 30 percent at the turn of the 21st Century. And, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as many as 80 percent of Americans admit to using their phones while driving.
The bill filed by Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, has a tougher punishment than last year’s Senate-passed bill, which would have brought a $30 fine for a first offense, more for subsequent offenses.
Eight states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington — and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held phone use by all drivers, according to NCSL. Legislatures in other states have prohibited cell phone use by certain drivers, such as young drivers or school bus drivers, for example.
Lynn’s bill has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee, the Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee and the Budget Committee.