This letter is a guest column written by Florida House Representative Irving
“Irv” Slosberg, representing the 91st district. Mr. Slosberg
was a sitting Representative in 2012 when the ban on texting while driving
in Florida was introduced. In this letter exclusively written for our
newsletter, he offers his perspective.
We have a mass epidemic of distracted driving all across the nation. Unfortunately,
Florida has some of the weakest traffic safety laws in the United States.
In addition, Florida is ranked as having the sixth-worst drivers overall,
leaving us with some of the deadliest roads in the country. We are one
of the only states to not have a primary enforcement “no texting
and driving” law. It is my job, as a State Representative, to try
and change these laws and promote greater public safety.
Texting and driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, yet our laws
on these two issues are completely unequal. Drivers who are texting are
23 times more likely to cause a crash. The National Highway & Traffic
Safety Association estimates 28% of all car crashes occur when people
are using their phone. Distracted driving kills thousands of people every
year, but our state is failing to take this dangerous epidemic seriously.
Most people would think that traffic safety is a non-partisan, non-political
no-brainer. However, that is far from the truth in Florida. Road safety
laws are passed at a sluggish pace, and they are held up in the legislative
process for a variety of reasons. When we do finally put a law on the
books, it is usually a watered-down, unenforceable version of the original bill.
The Florida Ban on Texting while Driving Law is a prime example of how traffic safety laws are passed in our state.
In 2013, the Legislature enacted the
Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law. The bill started as a strong proposal, with primary enforcement and little
exceptions. However, as it made its way through the process, it was watered
down in each committee to allow drivers to use their cell phones at red
lights and for navigational purposes. It also became a secondary enforcement
law, meaning police officers could not stop drivers solely for violating
this law – a driver would need to be committing another traffic
infraction as well before a police office could pull them over.
Lastly, the bill was amended on the legislative floor to only allow phone
records to be used by police officers in severe car crashes involving
death or serious injury. Although it is beneficial to finally have a law
on the books, it has done little to stop distracted driving. There have
been very few citations given thus far all across the state, because the
law is so hard to enforce.
I understand how the process works and will continue to propose bills that
strengthen our laws. One of the bills I sponsored this session will increase
the penalties for fatal crashes caused by texting and driving. This bill
provides that a driver can be charged with vehicular homicide, if they
cause a fatal car crash while breaking the “no texting” law.
Drivers could be charged with a 1st or 2nd degree crime, depending on
the circumstances. This will allow prosecutors to charge distracted drivers
similar to drunk drivers, as their crimes are equally as illegal and dangerous.
I filed several bills that increase our current law, in the hopes our lawmakers
will find them easier to swallow. One bill makes texting and driving a
primary offense only in school zones. Another bill I proposed will prohibit
all cell phone use for drivers under 18 years old. Minors are children,
and I don’t think any parent wants their child on a cell phone while driving.
Hopefully, the Legislature will pass some of these small but important
changes to our far too lenient law. I will be patient and persistent,
and keep pounding the table each year to improve traffic safety in the
state of Florida. As legislators, public safety is our number one priority,
and I will continue to try to make our roads safer this legislative session.
-Irving “Irv” Slosberg (D-Boca Raton), Florida House of Representatives