Florida senators advanced a measure to make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida on Tuesday but lawmakers expressed concerns over possible police abuses as a result of the new proposal.
SB 90, sponsored by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would make texting and driving a primary offense, which means Floridians could get pulled over if they’re found typing on their phones behind the wheel.
The legislation has seen widespread support from Tallahassee lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, but some senators on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development said they were worried black motorists could be unfairly targeted under the legislation.
Sens. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, and Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale both seemed concerned about the possibility of black motorists being unfairly targeted under the legislation.
According to data from Florida’s seatbelt law, black drivers received double the amount of tickets for not wearing a seatbelt than white drivers.
Texting and driving is currently a secondary offense in Florida, which means drivers have to be pulled over for breaking the law in other ways — like speeding or not wearing their seatbelts — to be whacked for texting and driving.
If the bill becomes law, Florida would become the 41st state in the country to ban texting and driving. State legislators have tried to pass the measure for years, but without much success.
In 2015, Florida saw over 45,000 distracted driving crashes, 39,000 of which resulted in injuries and 200 fatalities. The current fine for texting and driving is $30.
The National Safety Council estimates one out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving, with cell phone use while driving leading to nearly 2 million crashes each year.
Drivers would still be able to use their phone for GPS and for calls, but would not be allowed to text while behind the wheel.
Supporters of the bill applauded the Senate committee for passing the bill on Tuesday.
“Texting and driving is not worth the danger it poses, and we hope Florida drivers will respond well to this new policy – as they did in 2009 with the seatbelt law – when law enforcement gains the ability to issue a citation for this practice as a primary offense,” said Samantha Sexton, Vice President of Legislative & Regulatory Affairs for the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, which is also a member of the FL DNT TXT N DRV Coalition supporting the bill.
The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. A similar measure is currently making its way through the House.