TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Texting while driving in Florida would become a primary traffic offense punishable by fines under legislation making its way through the legislature. The House passed it and the Senate passed an amended version, which must then go back to the House.
The vote was 104-9 Tuesday for the bill. Senate bill 76 goes a step further than the House bill and would make Florida a hands-free state.
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Under current law, officers can only cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for some other violation. The House-passed bill would allow officers to stop motorists simply for texting alone.
A first offense is punishable by a $30 fine, with a second offense costing $60. Court costs and fees also would apply.
Gwendolyn Reese joined the fight to make the punishment stiffer for texting and driving shortly after her niece's death. Lavon Reese was a senior at Florida State University in 2015. On the last day of January, a woman going 89 miles per hour, crashed into Lavon, killing her instantly. Ashli Harvey was texting and driving.
"I cannot speak about her without tears in my eyes and in my heart. However, it’s not the sharp pain that it was 5-years-ago," said Reese.
“They’re killing each other. They’re weaving over the center line and hitting people head on and killing innocent people," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Judd says if it passes into law, they will educate drivers before they actually enforce it, but he says it won't be hard to prove it. "You can watch through the rear of their vehicle and see them trying to text and drive," he said.
The Senate is also working on a bill that would ban all phone use except for hands free.
"It came from the Senate sponsor and said we need to go all the way, we need to do the hands-free we were like yes!" Reese said. She believes this bill is a safer option for everyone and will save even more lives but doesn’t know if the two separate bills will clash and leave legislators at odds.
"If they can’t come to anything they agree on it may die once again I don’t know," she said.
The texting ban does not apply to a driver using a navigation device or system or to a driver whose vehicle is stationary.
The bill requires reports to guard against racial profiling.