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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > Volusia County

Deltona City Commission agrees to pursue statewide ban on texting while driving
Rating: 2.85 / 5 (27 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Nov 16 - 06:14



By Erika Webb



Florida is one of only 11 states with no ban on texting while driving. There are no laws on the books against it or talking on a cell phone while driving. The Deltona City Commission wants that to change.

The commission voted unanimously at its Nov. 5 meeting to approve a resolution to encourage the state to enact legislation to stop "distracted drivers."

"I encourage approval of this, sending the strongest message we can," Mayor John Masiarczyk said.

On Oct. 15, Deltona resident Don Mair asked the commission to consider placing an item on the agenda regarding the adoption of a city ordinance to ban the use of hands-on devices while driving in Deltona.

Mr. Mair's 12-year-old daughter, Gabby, died after being struck by a car near her DeBary bus stop in 2010. Texting was not determined to be a factor in the accident, but his personal tragedy has motivated Mr. Mair to look at every way possible to make area streets safer for pedestrians.

But his proposed city ban presented roadblocks.

Commissioner Herb Zischkau, who is an attorney, said there can't be an effective solution at the city level, it's up to the state to limit voice communication while driving.

"Control of motor vehicle traffic is reserved to the state," Commissioner Zischkau said in a phone interview.

He cited the doctrine of state preemption, the ability of one level of government to override laws of a lower level.

"This was an agenda item set up to recognize we're completely powerless to do anything about texting or other traffic matters at the city level," he said.

Gary Davidson, a spokesman for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, which polices traffic in Deltona, said one of the bigger issues with a municipal ordinance like the one proposed would be whether or not it's even permissible under state statutes and cited potential obstacles in "the mechanics of prosecuting violators."

"The city would have to either retain its own prosecutor or contract with the State Attorney's Office. And that very likely would become an expensive and time-consuming undertaking," he wrote in an e-mailed response to questions.

He suggested a more practical and effective approach would be for the Florida Legislature to enact a statewide ban by making texting-while-driving a criminal offense.

"That way, violators would be prosecuted by the various state attorneys. In our judgment, this would be the preferred route because the state attorneys have the resources to process and prosecute violations, whereas most cities do not."

Commissioner Zischkau said he firmly believes texting while driving should be prohibited, garnering legislation to ban that activity will require narrowing formerly proposed restrictions.

"Just texting would pass quickly and easily," he said, "but it always gets tied up with people who want to limit cell phone use for voice communication and that's a different issue. It is difficult to write a proper statute to limit voice communication. It is easy to write a proper statute to limit texting," he said.

A 2012 bill, SB 416, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, came close to bringing changes to Florida's legislation. The bill advanced through four votes in the Senate only to die on the calendar, meaning the bill was not heard during the 2012 Legislative Session.

Whether Sen. Detert will reintroduce her bill could not be determined.

Distractions are estimated to be associated with 15 to 25 percent of crashes at all levels from minor property damage to fatal injury, according to a 2011 Governors Highway Safety Association report.

The report also listed countermeasures states should consider, including enactment of a texting ban for all drivers and a complete cell phone ban (both hands-free and hand-held) for novice drivers.

"You have to be very careful to properly express what it is you want to do," Commissioner Zischkau said.

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