The problem: Local officials say it’s a state issue. They instead next week will consider a resolution urging state lawmakers to act during the 2013 legislative session.
Florida is one of 11 states that allows text messaging while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
State Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, who sponsored the House version of the latest bill, said in a phone interview Wednesday that if he’s re-elected on Tuesday he will try once again, and believes there’s momentum to support the ban.
More than 7 in 10 Floridians support a ban on texting while driving, according to a survey conducted by several news organizations last January, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
But Pilon said some lawmakers have resisted for civil liberties reasons.
All of that frustrates Mair, 41, whose daughter Gabby, a sixth-grade student at River Springs Middle School, suffered fatal injuries after being struck while crossing West Highbanks Road near her DeBary bus stop in 2010.
“We are so far behind the times,” Mair said. “Most of our statutes regarding traffic safety were written in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. They have not been reviewed and updated since we became a state of 18 million people.”
No evidence indicated texting was involved in the crash involving his daughter, he said. But Mair says he has become passionate about improving safety for pedestrians in Florida because of studies such as the 2011 report “Dangerous by Design” by the group Transportation for America, naming Florida as by far the most dangerous state for pedestrians. In fact, the top four most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians are in Florida.
“This being a tourism state that relies on people coming here … to have that type of report that we’re the deadliest destination, every person in Tallahassee should be embarrassed,” Mair said.
Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad initiated a Bicycle/Pedestrian Focused Initiative a year ago to begin addressing the issue, according to Karen Smith, a department spokeswoman. The state is also planning a Florida Distracted Driving Summit on Nov. 13.
Since becoming active in pedestrian-safety issues, Mair helped push for a lower speed limit on West Highbanks Road in DeBary, where Gabby was struck after getting off her school bus. He started a non-profit organization, Gabby’s Law Inc., seeking to sharpen rules on where bus stops can be located, and has also spoken out on some of the school-safety issues faced by officials last year, when 27 Volusia County students were struck by vehicles, two fatally.
So far this year, 11 students have been struck with no fatalities, according to schools spokeswoman Nancy Wait.
On Oct. 15, Mair urged the Deltona City Commission to consider a city ban on texting while driving.
Mair pointed to Parkland, a city in Broward County, that passed an ordinance in 2009 banning texting while driving. But the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has cited zero motorists, according to spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion.
Faith Miller, the city manager, responded to Mair in an email last week, saying state traffic laws preempt municipalities’ ordinances. She said the resolution will be on the agenda for the Monday City Commission meeting.
Gary Davidson, a spokesman for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, which handles policing for Deltona, said it would simply be more practical for the state to pass a ban than for a city like Deltona.
“In order to prosecute municipal ordinance violations, the city would have to either retain its own prosecutor or contract with the State Attorney’s Office. And that would very likely become an expensive and time-consuming undertaking,” Davidson wrote in an emailed response to questions.
An attorney general’s advisory opinion issued in November 2009 indicates “that enactment of a municipal ordinance of this type isn’t permissible,” Davidson added.
Davidson, though, called the texting while driving issue “clearly a significant safety issue that affects everyone in Florida and therefore, in our view, demands a statewide solution.”