TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida lawmakers on Thursday passed a statewide ban on texting while driving.
The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott's desk. If he signs it into law, Florida will become the 40th state to enact a texting-while-driving bans for all drivers.
Scott hasn't publicly disclosed whether he will, but bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Detert said she thinks the governor will sign the measure.
"Early on, he talked about his wife getting hit by a person who was texting while driving, and I'm sure he's supportive," the Naples Republican said.
The approved ban makes texting while driving a secondary offense. That means police have to first stop drivers for an offense like an illegal turn.
A first violation is a $30 fine plus court costs. A second or subsequent violation within five years adds three points to the driver's license and is a $60 fine.
The Senate passed the bill (SB 52) by 39-1, with Republican Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart casting the only no vote.
"How does an officer know if you have your BlackBerry and you're not just looking at what your next appointment is?" he said. "I'm very opposed to texting while driving ... but the problem with this is enforceability."
Negron added that texting while driving should be cited under the state's existing careless driving law.
The House approved it earlier this week, but had added a provision allowing police to use drivers' mobile phone records against them only when texting causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury. That change required it to come back to the Senate.
Detert said she decided "not to let the perfect get in the way of the possible" and told fellow senators to agree to the late amendment.
That's not to say Detert was happy about the late amendment: "I have several non-verbal things I could do."
She later told reporters the House's change probably will help to defend the measure against privacy concerns. The bill allows the use of phone records in defense against a ticket, but some phone companies' records don't differentiate between manual texting and talk-to-text messaging.
This is the fifth legislative session Detert has tried to get a texting ban passed. Efforts to pass a ban stalled in the face of House Republican opposition. Conservative members based their concerns on government intrusion into people's lives.
The bill passed through committees in both chambers this year with only one 'no' vote: Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican.
Florida's ban includes typing a text or reading a text while driving. It includes tablet computers as well as mobile phones, but excludes using a talk-to-text feature. And it allows texting while stopped at a red light.
A ban has been supported by AT&T, the AARP, AAA, trial lawyers, businesses and state law enforcement groups.
According to a preliminary report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 256,443 reported crashes in 2012. In 4,841 of those crashes, a driver had been texting or otherwise using an "electronic communication device" while driving.
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