Family Pushes for Texting Ban After Son’s Death - NBC 6 South Florida

Family Pushes for Texting Ban After Son’s Death

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Mother Fights to End Distracted Driving

    A grieving mother is pushing to put a stop to distracted driving, particularly when it relates to texting and driving. NBC 6's Dan Krauth reports.

    (Published Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018)

    Patrick Wanninkhof was riding his bike across the country to raise money for the less fortunate when he was killed by a distracted driver.

    “It was devastating,” said his mother, Debbie Wanninkhof. “A Key Biscayne police officer came to the door and that was the announcement.”

    In July of 2015, Patrick, 25, was cycling across the country in Oklahoma for Bike and Build, a nonprofit that raises money for affordable housing, when a distracted driver killed him and severely injured his friend.

    “The driver was very irresponsible and negligent, she was driving between 80 and 85 miles per hour and engaged with her phone,” said Debbie.

    The Wanninkhof family is now trying to save others.

    Patrick’s sister, Suzette, cycled 8,000 miles across the country to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving after her brother’s death.

    “There were just so many moments I could feel that he was with me,” said Suzette Wanninkhof.

    Debbie and Rik Wanninkof have traveled to Tallassee six times in the past few months to share their family’s story with lawmakers.

    Over the next two weeks, members of the Florida House and Senate could vote on a set of bills that would ban texting and driving. Similar laws have been introduced in the past, but the new legislation has gone further than ever before.

    Florida is one of only four states in the country where texting behind the wheel is a secondary offense. Police have to spot drivers doing something else wrong first, like speeding, before issuing a texting ticket.

    “I feel it is not excusable, I mean they see the statistics, they know what’s happening out there,” said Debbie.

    NBC 6 found, in South Florida, 438 texting and driving citations were handed out in 2016 even though police say they see it happening a lot more.

    Some members of the Florida Black Caucus have expressed concerns that police could use the new law to racially profile drivers. An amendment has been added to the bill to that would require officers to document the race of every driver ticketed to make sure certain groups aren’t unfairly targeted.

    The Wanninkhof family support the addition of the amendment and believe it’s a separate issue dealing with police integrity.

    Their focus is to do what they think Patrick, a teacher, would have supported - helping others learn from his tragic death.

    “People think nothing’s going to happen to them, it doesn’t happen that day or the next day, but then something does and tragedy strikes,” said Debbie.

    If passed, if you get caught texting while driving, a ticket would cost from $30 to $60.

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