Carlton: Texting and driving? Pull us over, please

Who cares if Florida is a Nanny State if we make texting drivers stop?
When it comes to texting and driving in Florida, we need nannying. [Photo from Star Tribune]
When it comes to texting and driving in Florida, we need nannying. [Photo from Star Tribune]
Published May 2
Updated May 3

At last, a bill empowering police to pull us over for texting when we're supposed to be driving is headed to the governor to sign.

And already there's grumbling about Florida, the Nanny State.

But when it comes to a potentially deadly act of lunacy you can witness on our highways every single day — drivers' eyes glued to their phones instead of the road — maybe we need all the nannying we can get.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as I-know-my-rights as the next guy. I still don't much like a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office tactic aimed at thwarting car thefts and burglaries by putting notes inside vehicles that deputies find unlocked — fliers to remind car owners to lock up.

Yes, it's well intended. Yes, it's aimed at a serious problem — even more so when a driver doubles-down on dumb and leaves a gun inside for convenient stealing. (It happens.)

It's the part about a police officer going in my vehicle without my permission that bothers me.

I'm also watching with interest that federal court case about "chalking" — those parking enforcers who mark your car tire with chalk to tell if it sits in a space past the posted hours for parking, at which time you can get a ticket.

An appeals court in another circuit says chalking constitutes unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

And as someone who's sprinted to my vehicle with minutes to spare to beat a $25 citation, I sincerely hope so.

But texting while driving?

Ticket me, please.

Because here's the problem: If you are someone who regularly communicates via text, the thought of picking up your phone while you are behind the wheel with nothing else to do but, well, drive, can be tempting. I admit I have felt the pull.

And this is especially so for younger, text-mad drivers who already think themselves invincible.

But supporters of texting bans will tell you that tapping out a five-second message while headed down Interstate 275 at 55 mph takes your eyes off the road long enough to travel the length of a football field while blindfolded.

What could possibly go wrong?

Texting and driving was already illegal here, except police had to pull you over for something else like speeding first. The new law, which Gov. Ron DeSantis is said to support, makes it a primary offense, meaning police can use it as the reason to stop you.

And surely the prospect of a $30 fine will still some itchy fingers. And the fact that a second offense ups it to $60 and points on your license.

Florida's late to this game, given that you can already get pulled over for texting in 43 other states. Still, and you won't hear me say this often, the Legislature put some smart details in the roll-out.

A legitimate concern was that the law could be misused to profile drivers. After police were allowed to pull someone over for driving without a seat belt, studies showed black drivers were stopped more than white ones. The new texting bill requires officers to record the race and ethnicity of each person they ticket, with that information to be reviewed in Tallahassee.

Also, so serial texters can get used to leaving their phones alone, police will issue warnings until the end of the year when the actual ticketing begins.

At which time I say: Nanny away.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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