A measure that would allow law enforcement officers to ticket motorists solely for texting while driving received the endorsement of House Speaker Richard Corcoran Wednesday. The move significantly enhances the measure's prospects of passing during the 2018 legislative session.

  • Similar legislation pushed for years by Democrats
  • Previous efforts opposed due to fear of encroaching on privacy rights
  • Current law has resulted in comparatively few citations

Similar legislation has been championed for years by Democrats who have sought to expand on the 2013 state law that made texting while driving a secondary offense. The bills have failed to gain traction, opposed by conservative lawmakers concerned about encroaching on drivers' privacy rights and minorities weary of increased opportunities for racial profiling.

But the law, which bars officers from pulling over texting motorists unless they're committing a primary offense like speeding, has resulted in relatively few citations. All the while, distracted driving accidents in Florida have continued to climb, totaling 45,000 in 2015.

The state doesn't collect data on how many of those accidents were caused by texting while driving. Roadway safety advocates note, however, there weren't anywhere near as many distracted driving accidents before the rise of texting technology.

The data appears to have struck a chord with Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican.

"I see it all the time, the dangers that are on the road," Corcoran said in an interview. "We're seeing the statistics and the increasing numbers, 50,000 accidents, over 200 deaths in Florida, nine a day nationwide, so hopefully this will go a long way."

The latest legislation, HB 33, is aimed at assuaging conservatives by mandating a warrant in order for law enforcement to access a driver's phone. Officers would also be required to inform drivers pulled over for texting while driving of their right to decline a search of their phone.

But while the Democratic bills directed law enforcement agencies to devise policies prohibiting racial profiling in primary enforcement of the texting-while-driving ban, HB 33 does not. Sen. Perry Thurston (D-Ft. Lauderdale), the chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, has announced his opposition to the bill, arguing it would provide another avenue for police abuse of minorities.

Sylvester Robinson, the pastor of a Tampa church touring the state Capitol Wednesday, shares Thurston's concern, though he says he supports the bill.

"I would not oppose it because the reason why, the sole reason, is safety first," Robinson said. "I just believe safety first, and I would trust that our law enforcement officers, that we would, at some point, graduate from the place of racial profiling."