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Texting-While-Driving Ban To Be Considered By Florida Budget Committee

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On Tuesday afternoon, Florida's Budget Committee is scheduled to consider a statewide ban on texting while driving.

Specifically Bill SB 416 prohibits operating vehicles while typing letters, numbers, and symbols into a wireless communication device.

It also bans sending or reading data for any non-voice communication.

Introduced by South Florida senators Gwen Margolis, Maria Sachs, and Eleanor Sobel and senators from around the state, Evelyn Lynn and Thad Altman, the bill will go into effect October 1, 2012 if approved.

As written, the bill holds a first offense as a nonmoving violation with a $30 fine plus court fees. A second violation within 5 years of the first will be considered a moving violation with a $60 fine plus court costs.

A driver caught texting while driving will have 6 points added to his or her driving record. When 12 or more points are accrued, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles can suspend a driver's license for 30 days. If a driver gets 18 points within an 18-month period, he or she can be suspend from driving for 3 months.

Florida is one of the last remaining states that does not prohibit text messaging while behind the wheel even though the Governor's Highway Safety Association recently published a study that shows that distractions such as texting are involved in up to 25 percent of accidents.

According to analysis of the bill, 35 states and Washington D.C. have already passed texting-while-driving laws.

The Florida bill is modeled after an Executive Order by President Obama in 2009 that prohibited federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles.

There are some exceptions to the statewide ban. Bill SB 416 does not apply to law enforcement, fire service or emergency medical personal performing official duties; anyone reporting an emergency or criminal activity to law enforcement; messages related to traffic, weather, or emergency alerts; and navigation systems.

Similar legislation has been shot down in Florida with critics citing such bans as just more big government.

Republican Brad Drake told Insurance Journal "It's difficult to legislate every kind of human behavior and then try and enforce it. People just need to be responsible for themselves."

Florida Highway Patrol's Chief of Public Affairs Captain Mark Brown told Huff Post Miami that in 2011, there were 2,589 crashes in Florida in which " electronic distraction" was noted on the accident report.

Brown adds that FHP banned all cellular use in their patrol vehicles -- with the exception of hands free devices -- in order to set a positive example for the public to follow.

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