Thursday, February 14, 2019

Action Alert: Feb. 19th Senate Committee considers SB 76," Hands-Free Florida Law"

The Florida Legislature is in session and this year's "Hands-Free Florida Law" bills are beginning through the legislative process.  The first action is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19th, when the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee considers Senator Simpson's bill, SB 76, "Use of Wireless Communications Devices While Driving". 

Below is the letter that BikeWalkLee sent to the Committee today, urging them to support SB 76 on Tuesday. At the end of this blog, there are also links to other related documents, including the action alert by the FL DNT TXTNDRV Coalition.

It is important for citizens to contact (phone or email) members of the Senate Committee prior to their Tuesday Feb. 19th 4:30 p.m. meeting.  See the list of members and links to how to contact them. 
Best way to contact them is to CALL:
Chair:  Senator Tom Lee (R) 850-487-5020
Vice-Chair: Senator Keith Perry (R) 850-487-5008
Senator Aaron Bean (R) 850-487-5004
Senator Janet Cruz (D) 850-487-5018
Senator Ed Hooper (R) 850-487-5016
Senator Travis Hutson (R) 850-487-5007
Senator Linda Stewart (D) 850-487-5013
Senator Annette Taddeo (D) 850-487-5040
February 14, 2019
 Members the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee:
BikeWalkLee, a coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County, has long urged the Legislature to improve the safety of all road users in Florida.  In particular, our top legislative priority for the past six years has been passing a bill to strengthen Florida's laws dealing with distracted driving, in particular the weak “texting while driving” law. 
As the Committee considers SB 76 “Use of Wireless Communications Devices While Driving” on Feb. 19th,  we urge you to support this bill that would make texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone a “primary” offense.  It is critical that Florida, one of the most dangerous states in the country for all road users (drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists), strengthen roadway safety laws to address the growing dangers of distracted driving.
Across the nation, overall traffic fatalities have surged in the past four years.  In Florida, traffic fatalities climbed by 25% between 2014 and 2017.  In Lee County, fatal traffic crashes increased much faster –40% between 2014 to 2017. According to the Florida Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida in 2016, and these crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.
Most experts agree that the primary cause of the surge in traffic fatalities is distracted driving, increasingly caused by the use of smart phones and internet apps. The National Safety Council reports that the risk of a crash is four times greater when a cell phone is in use. According to the national “Safe Driving Report: 2016-2017” (issued by the insurance firm EverQuote Inc.), Florida ranked the second-worst state for distracted driving.
Recent studies show there is a relationship between individual state roadway safety rankings and that state’s driver safety laws and enforcement of those laws. While Florida is one of the most dangerous states in the country for road users, it ranks as the seventh worst state for driver safety laws (2016 study by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety). Florida is one of only four states that doesn't make texting while driving a primary offense—which allows police to pull over motorists for offenses. Clearly, one of the reasons Florida's traffic fatalities are among the highest in the nation is that it has very weak driver safety laws in place. 
Florida's alarming increase in traffic fatalities is not only a concern for driver safety, it is of particular concern for vulnerable road users -- pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists -- who are at the greatest risk when drivers take their eyes off the road.  The national 2019 “Dangerous by Design” report ranked Florida as the most dangerous state in the country for pedestrians, and eight of the most dangerous metro areas in the U.S. are in Florida. This is a crisis that can no longer be ignored by the Florida Legislature.
It is time to address the larger problem of use of cell phones while driving, not just texting.  Not only is the current Florida texting law weak, it is difficult to enforce.  Laws prohibiting all motor vehicle drivers from using hand-held electronic communication devices while driving can be more effectively enforced. 
We know that stronger laws will reduce Florida’s roadway fatalities.  Of the 15 states and the District of Columbia that have enacted “hands-free” laws, 13 saw an average 17.5% decrease in traffic fatalities within two years after passing and enforcing their new laws.  Applying these findings to Florida, if HR 45/SB 76 were enacted an estimated 545 lives could be saved each year.
In each of the past six years, the Florida Legislature failed to take any action to strengthen its weak anti-texting law, and took no action to address the broader causes of distracted driving.  It is critically important that the Legislature take action this year to address the growing dangers presented by the use of electronic devices while driving.
We urge the Committee to support SB 76 and work to ensure that it becomes law this year.
Thank you for your support. 
Darla Letourneau
on behalf of BikeWalkLee
Related Links:
FL DNT TXTNDRV Coalition 1/28/19 handout re: SB 76 and HB 107:
Senate Bill #76

Florida Senate Bill Tracking for SB 76

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