Optimism high for tougher distracted driving laws to pass this year

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Optimism is high among lawmakers and advocates that 2019 will be the year Florida adopts stiffer distracted driving laws.

The Legislation would allow law enforcement to pull people over when they see them driving distracted.

This is the second year Brooke and Jordan Scherer have come to the State Capitol to advocate for stiffer distracted driving laws. It was two and a half years ago they lost their nine-year-old son Logan.

“We just happened to be at the end of that traffic jam, in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Brooke.

Others like Demitrus Broncha, who lost his son Anthony, have been coming even longer.

“Our kids are dying. This is the number one killer of American youth,” said Broncha.

Legislation that would not only make texting while driving but all distracted driving a primary offense, punishable by a $30 citation, passed its second Senate committee with unanimous support Wednesday.

In a press conference immediately following the vote, House Sponsor Representative Jackie Toledo said an identical companion bill has the support of House leadership.

“Florida is just one of four states where distracted driving is not a primary offense and waiting just another day puts so many Floridians at risk,” said Toledo.

Currently, law enforcement can only issue citations if a driver is pulled over for another traffic offense first.

“With it being a primary offense it will literally take the handcuffs off of law enforcement and allow us to make our roads safer,” said Florida Police Chiefs Association President Chief David Perry.

Under the proposal, hands-free use of a phone would still be allowed. A first-time offender could even bring proof they purchased a Bluetooth device to their local clerk of courts in lieu of paying the fine.

There would also be a three month grace period after the law takes effect where all first-time offenders would be issued warnings instead of tickets.

Last year similar legislation aimed only at texting died in the Senate over privacy concerns. This year, Senate sponsor Wilton Simpson says prohibiting all distracted driving, not just cell phone use has put those concerns to rest.

If the bill becomes law Florida would be the 17th state to adopt a hands-free law.

Other states with hands-free laws have seen a 16 percent reduction in traffic fatalities within two years.