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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Columnists

Henderson: Florida’s text ban has no teeth

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Everyone basically agrees people shouldn’t type and send text messages while driving a car. People die when that happens, and the facts support that completely.

So now the practice is banned in our state, sort of.

The Florida Legislature passed a version of a text ban that is the legal equivalent of being placed in time out. A police officer first has to stop a driver for another violation — say, running a red light while texting. Assuming that driver hasn’t T-boned another car, the officer can then start writing a text ticket as a secondary violation.

I really don’t think it will make a bit of difference. Since it took five years to get this much, though, we should be grateful for incremental advances. That’s how we roll in Florida. There are a lot of people here who think anything infringing on personal liberty puts us one step closer to the nanny state.

This is just me, but personal liberty should end about 2 feet before you smash into someone’s bumper.

More than a few of you have pointed out to me that the dangerous driving law already on the books covered this issue. Texting behind the wheel certainly is dangerous. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says the practice makes drivers 23 times more likely to crash.

Another study shows it’s like driving blind for up to five seconds. Another statistic shows texting puts drivers in the same safety category as someone who had four beers.

I suppose lawmakers could have considered all that and added a text ban into existing law. That might have satisfied the nanny. Instead, we got something that was celebrated with muted gusto when Gov. Rick Scott signed it on Tuesday.

“I would have liked to see something with more teeth,” said Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon. “I felt like we were compromising too much. To me, this whole issue of dangerous driving needs to be addressed.

“All the cars now have these touch screens, navigation systems, iPod chargers and all that. Then you add in the age-old problem of putting on your makeup or shaving while driving. The car has become a place where we’re multitasking all the time instead of concentrating on our primary responsibility. At some point, some greater social good has to prevail.”

It is worth noting he has a daughter just learning to drive. I know few things scared me more than when my sons got their licenses.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t legitimate reasons to be wary of a text-ban law. One version would have allowed police to seize cellphones of accused drivers to check for text messages. That became a nonissue earlier this month after the Florida Supreme Court correctly ruled police need a warrant to do that.

But remember where we came in on this issue.

Sending text messages while driving is dangerous and potentially deadly. That message is being pounded into the brains of young people as they grow toward driving age, and we can’t say that often enough.

In the meantime, we have a law — such as it is.


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