Distracted driving legislation takes major first step

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
October 24, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Legislation allowing police to ticket someone they witness texting and driving cleared its first committee in the state capitol on Tuesday.

Current law says if a police officer pulled up alongside a texting driver, the officer still could not ticket them without finding another violation in order to pull them over.

Advocates say the law makes no sense.

"We're here to share our stories and the lives of the one's you love," said Jennifer Smith of StopDistractions.org.

Families who have lost a loved one to texting and driving say it has to stop.

"It could save another mother to have to go through what I am going through," explained Jodi Dominguez.

Patricia Viccaro lost her son, Michael, while he was fishing from a bridge on his 25th birthday.

"I said, 'is my son dead?' And he said, 'I'm sorry to say.' That was my call at 4:30 in the morning," Viccaro recalled.

Steve Augello lost his daughter, a high school senior, as she was on her way home from rehearsing a school play.

"She wanted to be a journalist. She was accepted at St. Leo's College and she was getting ready to go," he said.

Now, their persistence is paying off.

The man who has successfully blocked tougher texting laws because he doesn't want officers or others looking into a driver's phone, now says he'll support tough penalties for distracted driving.

Representative Jose Olivia is set to be the next Speaker of the House. He wants more than just tickets for people texting and driving.

"I'm fully supporting a driving while distracted law," he said. "I think that's a good thing, and it's necessary. Isolating it to one of many apps on a phone, I think is shortsighted."

Olivia's support is a major breakthrough for families who've lost a loved one, and for drivers everywhere.

Traffic deaths are up over 20 percent between 2013 and 2015. Insurance rates are up 16 percent in part, insurers say, because of the increase in traffic accidents.

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