Distracted driving has become such a public health menace that legislators in nearly every state in the U.S. have been busy passing laws making it a primary offense – that is, allowing officers to pull drivers over for the offense of texting while driving alone. While many drivers might scoff at the idea of being ticketed solely for sending out a quick retweet while on the highway, distracted driving has actually become the number one cause of auto fatalities in some states, and lawmakers want to see that changed. The latest state to mull new laws to combat distracted driving is Florida, where lawmakers are deliberating on a bill which will make distracted driving a primary offense. While that sounds like great news for those of us who don’t like head-on collisions with texting teenagers, the law isn’t without critics.
The Florida bill would see drivers being ticketed $30 for their first distracted driving offense and $60 for their second. The main change is that police officers will be able to detain drivers and issue fines for texting while driving without needing to cite another offense first. Some state lawmakers want to see an amendment added which will allow drivers the right to refuse police searches of their phones without a warrant, while others are worried the bill will see more minorities and people of color pulled over under the pretense of using their phones.
One Florida Representative, Wengay “Newt” Newton (D) of St. Petersburg, says that in other states with the primary offense law, “people who look like me or have a similar hue, they were pulled over two to one.” Still, many legislators and family members of individuals killed by distracted drivers believe the law is a necessary measure to save lives. Florida man Steve Augello lost his 17-year-old daughter to a texting driver in 2008 and told legislators “this is one of the most dangerous things in the world, texting while driving. Right now we need to pass this and make it a primary offense. It will save lives.” Are these laws a necessary measure to protect ourselves from ourselves on the road, or an example of police overreach?