Texting while driving bill up for vote again

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SARASOTA - Suncoast State Senator Nancy Detert doesn't give up easily. For the 5th year in a row, she has filed a bill to make it illegal to text while driving. And this year, she thinks her bill has a good chance of becoming law.

It's now known as Senate Bill 52. "It’s a secondary offence. You have to be pulled over for something else, and it's strictly no texting while driving. It's doesn't include hands-free cell phones or anything else like that," says Detert.

Detert says she believes texting is a much greater danger than talking on a cell phone. She says on I-75 you can pick out people who are texting -- their heads are down and they are weaving across the road.

She says Florida is one of only seven states that have no regulations regarding texting; that it's taking lives and the legislature needs to stop it.

The problem with texting is that it's a distraction. And Melissa Wandall says distracted drivers kill. Her husband was killed by a distracted driver as he turned into State Road 70 near their home. "He tuned left when the arrow turned green. When he proceeded through the intersection, a motorist not paying attention ran a red light and killed my husband immediately."

Ever since, she has battled to get distracted drivers off the road. "Here's the deal -- think of all the other people who are being killed and injured because of somebody's selfishness, because somebody thinks it's their right to text and drive."

Senator Detert is as determined as Wandall to stop texting and driving. And even though her last 4 attempts to get a law through the legislature failed, she thinks this fifth try is a charm. "We have a new Speaker. The last Speaker of the House just did not support this bill at all, and would not let it be heard in any committee. And I think the new speaker will at least allow the bill to be heard in committee and let the members vote their conscience."

Detert says some people believe the cell phone companies are blocking the bill, but that's not true. AT&T has launched a major national campaign against texting and driving.

And Suncoast residents we spoke to Monday say they certainly support a law against texting and driving. "I think it's great…I think it's very dangerous not only to the person who’s driving, but everybody else," says Venice resident Martha Williams.

"Michigan adopted a law about three years ago, and I think it's a good provision. There are too many distractions on the road without adding texting to your tasks," says winter resident Lou Desenberg.

Detert says legislators opposing the bill say it interferes with a person's right to do whatever they want in their own car.

That philosophy angers some people. “I don't think it's your individual right to endanger the other people in the world…babies, children, moms…if you want to text, pull over in a safe place and text," says Venice resident Wic Allen.

The legislature doesn't meet again until March, but the bill against texting and driving starts its journey through committees in December. Senator Detert will sponsor it through the Senate, and Representative Doug Holder plans to guide it through the house.