Bill to ban texting while driving in Fla. heads to governor

Texting while drivingIn politics, sometimes close is close enough.

A slightly watered-down version of an anti-texting while driving bill arrived at the Florida Senate on Thursday, but its sponsor OK’d it because it was still potent enough to make the point:

Distracted driving is as bad as driving drunk.

With Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, texting while driving will become illegal.

Under a version of the bill approved by the House Thursday afternoon, police officers would only be able to search the cell phone of a suspected driver in the case of an accident or bodily injury, rather than in a routine traffic stop.

The Senate sponsor, Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she was disappointed that the final bill means texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning drivers can only be cited for doing so if they are pulled over for another.

But Detert, who is in her fifth year of trying to get the state to crack down on distracted driving, said it would have to do. Besides, she said, police officers who suspect drivers of distracted driving won’t have a problem finding a reason to pull them over, she said.

Careless driving, sudden lane changes and other factors are usually obvious, she said.

“The behavior of a person texting while driving is the same as a drunk driver,” she said.

Besides, she said, the bill passed Thursday will put the burden of proof on the driver, not the police. A driver fighting the original  citation, plus the secondary charge of texting while driving, will have to produce his cell phone in court on his own to show he was not using it when the citation occurred.

And after five years of trying, Detert said she’d have to be satisfied with getting any law passed she could.

One day before the end of the session, she didn’t want to risk sending the bill back to the House and the chance it won’t make it back in time.

A sign on her desk explains it all, she said.

“Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the possible,” she said.


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