Florida family wants tougher texting laws for drivers

Published: Mar. 29, 2017 at 5:56 PM CDT
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After losing a child in 2015, a St. Petersburg family is at the center of efforts to allow police to stop and ticket texting motorists, but one of the most powerful people in the state House said the cost of freedom is too high.

Lavon Reese was a senior at Florida State University when she was hit and killed by a texting driver. That was January 2015. Now her family is on the forefront of lobbying for tougher texting laws.

"My cousin was one of 218 individuals who passed away, was killed, in accidents relating to texting and driving. So my family is not alone," said Lavon's cousin Jeffrey Beaten, "in one year; 2015 alone."

The legislation has cleared two senate committees, but its sponsor, Senator Rene Garcia, is not optimistic.

"I think it's on life support, unfortunately. I hear that the house is reluctant to move the bill," Garcia said.

There have been no hearings in the house. The biggest obstacle is Speaker-in-Waiting Jose Oliva. We asked for an interview, but House Spokesman Fred Piccolo provided us with a statement saying the House had not yet formulated a position.

In 2013, Representative Oliva told us, "I, like everyone else, want to see the end of children texting and getting killed in automobiles. Not at the expense of our civil liberties."

House Sponsor Emily Slosberg believes it could be 2021, after Oliva is out of the legislature, before the bill could pass.

The legislation would allow police to stop drivers seen texting without observing some other violation first. It carries a $30 fine.

In 2015, the state reports there were 45,740 accidents caused by distracted drivers.