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The Florida House on Monday passed a
compromise bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense, as
well as create a hands-free area within school zones and construction zones
where workers are present.

The bill, House Bill 107, now heads to
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who is expected to sign it into law.

The House’s passage came just a few
days after the Florida Senate passed the bill with added language about school
and construction zones that now requires drivers to use hands-free devices if
they want to talk on their phones in those areas.

The Senate voted on Thursday and then
sent it back to the House. Current Florida law, passed in 2013,
only allows officers to cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for
some other violation. This bill will allow officers to stop motorists simply
for texting or using a handheld phone in prohibited zones.

It was supported by businesses, industry
and law enforcement organizations that make up the FL DNT TXTNDRV COALITION.

Logan McFaddin, regional manager for
the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and a member of the
coalition, said Florida is one of eight states that saw a nearly 6% spike in
fatalities in 2018, with driver behavior being one of the main reasons for
lives lost in car crashes.

“This good public policy would go a
step further in protecting Florida drivers and lowering insurance costs by
making texting while driving a primary offense,” McFaddin said.

If signed, the bill will take effect
July 1, 2019, but changes will be phased in. Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019,
law enforcement officers will issue only verbal or written warnings to
violators. As of Jan. 1, 2020, officers will begin issuing citations to
violators.

People who are issued citations can
have three points assessed against their driver’s license, however, first-time
offenders can elect to participate in a wireless communications device driving
safety program and, upon completion, have costs and points waived by a court
clerk. First time offenders can also have their cases dismissed by county
clerks if they show proof to the court they have purchased wireless
communications equipment that enables their device to be used in a hands-free
manner.

The bill also requires law enforcement
agencies to record the race and ethnicity of a violator when issuing a citation
and report that information to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and
Motor Vehicles. The requirement was added in an effort to guard against racial
profiling.

“Today, Florida took a giant step
forward towards saving lives and making our roads safer,” State Representative
Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), who sponsored HB 107 in the Florida House, said
Monday. “Distracted driving has become an epidemic and I thank my colleagues in
both the Senate and House for passing this much needed common-sense
legislation.”

Advocates of the new texting while
driving ban, also praised the passage of the bill.

“Despite all the data and the tragic
stories of lives lost, drivers continue to ignore the reality that texting and
driving kills. By making texting a primary offense that can get you pulled over
and held accountable for your action, this bill has the potential to finally
change behavior for the better,” said NAMIC Regional Vice President of the
Southeast Liz Reynolds.

Phone use while driving has become an
epidemic across the country, according to a study published by Zendrive last
year. It’s study found even in the then-14 states that have banned handheld
phones behind the wheel, phone usage had increased.

From December through February,
Zendrive technology monitored 4.5 million drivers who traveled 7.1 billion
miles, comparing the results with the year-earlier period. Roughly two out of
three of those people used a mobile phone at least once. Among those who picked
up their phones, they used them for an average of almost four minutes—a 5
percent increase from the previous year.

“Legislation, by itself, is clearly not
enough,” said Zendrive founder Jonathan Matus

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