Florida distracted driving law may be strengthened

If a series of bills passes in Florida state legislature, the state’s texting while driving laws may be strengthened.

A state senator and two state representatives have filed bills that would make texting while driving a primary offense, add penalties when a fatal crash occurs because of a driver using a cell phone, and ban cell phone use in school zones.

The “Ban on Texting While Driving” law was passed by the state legislature in 2012. Florida was the 41st state to pass such legislation. 

However, in Florida, texting while behind the wheel has been established as a secondary offense — meaning that police officers must have a separate reason to pull a driver over. They can only issue a ticket for texting while driving in addition to the citation for the other offense.

The current law also allows for several exceptions, such as using a cellphone for GPS navigation or to listen to music. Officers must be able to testify that the driver was not using the phone for one of these exceptions, which is difficult to do, since cell phone data is not available unless a serious accident occurs.

Officials said texting while driving, and other forms of distracted driving, are a major cause of car accidents, and they can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.