Texting while driving could become a primary traffic offense in Florida under legislation unveiled Wednesday.
As it stands right now, police officers can only write a citation for texting if they catch a driver doing something else wrong first, like speeding. The new legislation would allow officers to pull over motorists if they see them texting or emailing.
Florida is one of only a handful of states that doesn't allow law enforcement officials to pull drivers over for distracted driving behind the wheel.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran is supporting the legislation after he says he became convinced by statistics showing the dangers of texting while driving, particularly for younger drivers.
"The statistics have just become overwhelming. This has reached a national crisis,” Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, told News Service of Florida.
Nearly 50,000 distracted driving crashes were reported in Florida in 2016, including 233 deaths, according to he state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
While making it easier for law enforcement officers to pull over motorists for texting, Corcoran said the bill would still protect "civil liberties."
Motorists would not have to turn over their phones until warrants are issued. And motorists could not be detained while authorities seek warrants.
Asked about an American Civil Liberties Union study this year that found African-Americans were nearly twice as likely as whites to be stopped for seat-belt violations, based on 2014 data, Corcoran said those concerns will be considered as the texting legislation is debated.
But he also noted state law already has prohibitions against racial profiling to try to protect minority motorists.
Under the texting-while-driving bill, first-time violators would face a $30 fine plus court costs for a non-moving violation. Second-time offenders would face a $60 fine plus court costs with a moving violation.
The bill would include additional penalties for texting violations for motorists involved in crashes and while driving through school zones, Corcoran said.
"Really what is at issue is trying to keep our families as safe as possible on the road," Corcoran said.