Florida Lawmakers Propose Bundle of Bills to Make Roads Safer

March 18, 2008

Lawmakers are looking to make Florida roads safer with bills that deal with issues ranging from road rage to driver education programs.

It’s not unusual to see a number of bills that tweak fines and modify existing laws during the legislative session, but the bills lawmakers will consider this year are unusually substantive, said Kevin Bakewell, a senior vice president for AAA Auto Club South.

Here are some of the issues lawmakers will discuss:

Cell Phones

Mobile phones have already become a little less mobile in several states where lawmakers have made it illegal to drive while talking on a cell phone.

Proposed legislation (SB 1266, HB 357) would bring the prohibition to Florida. Similar bills (SB 504, HB 193) would ban only minors from using mobile phones while driving, and another bill (SB 2042) would prohibit only drivers with a learner’s permit from using phones.

Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, chairs the Senate Committee on
Transportation and sponsored the ban for teens. He acknowledged
that society has become so dependent on cell phones that a ban for
adults just wouldn’t be practical and isn’t likely to pass.


Minors could be the population most affected by driving legislation this year. The automobile association is supporting a number of bills that affect teen driving, including the one to ban minors from talking on the phone. Other legislation it approves of (SB 2678, HB 1299) would require all minors to complete a driver education course before receiving a driver’s license.

The automobile association also supports a bill that would prohibit minors from driving with more than three underage passengers, unless accompanied by someone who is at least 21 years old. The legislation (SB 282, HB 77) would also prohibit minors from having any underage passengers within the first six months after receiving their license.

“There’s no question that with every person you add with that teen driver, the chances of a crash go up significantly,” Bakewell said, adding that three passengers was probably still too many.

The automobile club, however, does not support legislation (SB
S1238, HB 529) that would disqualify minors from driving if they
drop out of school. There’s no connection between a teen being a
safe driver and being in school, Bakewell said. The bill might be
an incentive to keep teens in school, but it won’t make the roads
any safer, he said.

Red Light Cameras

Red-light cameras could become more widespread in Florida if bills under consideration pass.

Some communities already have the cameras installed, but many others want the state to set standards before they move forward with their own plans. Legislation under consideration (HB 351, SB 816) would help do that. Drivers caught by camera running a red light wouldn’t receive points on their licenses, but they would be fined.

Currently some communities have held off on the cameras because
they’re concerned about setting up their own programs and then
having the state make different rules.

Road Rage

For the past two years Miami has been the U.S. city with the most road rage according to one national survey. But legislation to try to curb the problem throughout Florida has in recent years stalled.

Filed again this year, the legislation (SB 658, HB 1177) would attempt to reduce road rage by requiring drivers to yield the left lane when being overtaken by faster vehicles. It also would improve the flow of traffic, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

One problem with the bill is that a person driving the legal
speed limit could be ticketed for not pulling over for someone who
is exceeding it, according to the automobile club. The group
believes a better option would be to educate people on responsible
and courteous driving practices.

Seat Belts

There’s little doubt that drivers and passengers wearing seat belts are more likely to survive a car crash, but many people still don’t wear them.

Back again is year is legislation (SB 94, HB 11) that would allow police to pull over drivers for not wearing a seat belt. Currently, police can’t pull over drivers for not buckling up but can fine drivers for not wearing a seat belt if they pull a driver over for another offense.

Lawmakers and other groups have been pushing the change for
about a decade without success. Three years ago, however, lawmakers
passed a law that allows police to pull over drivers under 18 for
not wearing a seat belt alone.

Smoking in Cars

The list of places where people can legally smoke would get a little shorter under a bill filed in the Senate.

The bill (SB 2162) would prohibit smoking in vehicles occupied by minors. Children are incredibly susceptible to secondhand smoke, and any measure that would increase their safety is heading in the right direction, said Paul Hull, a vice president with the American Cancer Society. The bill lacks a House companion.

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