House passes texting while driving ban

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed its version of a statewide ban on texting, but a late change close to the end of the legislative session cast some uncertainty over its fate.

The measure passed the House on a 110-6 vote and now heads back to the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously last month. The Senate will now consider an amendment by the House that would allow police to use drivers' mobile phone records to back charges against them only when texting causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury.

Supporters of the bill said they hoped the change won't foil chances to add Florida to the long list of states that have texting-while-driving bans for all drivers. With Florida's 60-day legislative session ending Friday, there is some concern about whether the measure will have time to clear the GOP-led Legislature and reach Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

"I would hate to see ... time run out on this bill because an amendment was put on," said Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat who called distracted driving "a mass epidemic in Florida."

The change came as a surprise to Sen. Nancy Detert, the Venice Republican who has pushed for a texting-while-driving ban for four years. Those efforts have been thwarted by opposition from conservative House Republicans who expressed concerns that it was an example of government intruding into people's lives.

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have texting-while-driving bans for all drivers.

Rep. Doug Holder, a Venice Republican who helped shepherd the bill through the House, said Wednesday he was confident the bill will become Florida law.

Holder stressed the bill's public safety value, saying that people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in an accident.

"It's the same as driving blind for five seconds at a time, traveling the distance of a football field," he said. "It's the same as drinking four beers very quickly and getting behind the wheel."

The bill makes texting while driving a secondary offense. That means police have to first stop drivers for another offense. 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 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.

The ban is 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.

The bill allows the use of phone records to defend against a ticket, but some phone companies' records don't differentiate between manual texting and talk-to-text messaging.

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