Florida bill would toughen teen driving rules

| 11/29/2007

Florida could be in line to become the next state to bar young drivers from using cell phones while at the wheel. Passenger limits also could be put in place for young drivers.

Senate Transportation Chairman Carey Baker, R-Eustis, has filed legislation that would allow police to ticket drivers under age 18 caught using an electronic communications device, such as a cell phone, while behind the wheel. Hands-free devices also would be prohibited for the young drivers.

Seventeen states already have bans on cell phone use for young drivers.

Police could ticket violators only after pulling them over for another offense, such as speeding or failure to signal. Offenders would be assessed one point on their driver’s licenses.

The effort in Florida follows a National Transportation Safety Board report, which recommended that novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board reported that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency reported.

Opponents say there already are laws to prevent distracted and unsafe driving. Others say using the phone while at the wheel isn’t a distraction for drivers, including teens, who are responsible.

Another bill would put passenger limits on young drivers.

Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, the bill would prohibit drivers under age 18 from transporting more than three passengers under age 18 during the first six months after obtaining their licenses. Exceptions would be made for relatives.

Violations would be secondary offenses.

Baker’s bill – S504 – and Skidmore’s bill – HB77 – can be considered during the regular session that begins in March.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor