Boynton joins push to toughen texting while driving laws

After failing last legislative session to convince colleagues to strengthen driving while texting laws, State Rep. Emily Slosberg is trying again and has south Palm Beach County’s leaders on her side.

The Boynton Beach City Commission this week joined other municipalities including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Miami and Pembroke Pines in supporting Slosberg’s efforts to pass a law that would give police the authority to pull over a driver seen texting.

READ: Distracted walking ‘a death wish’ for pedestrians focused on phones

Florida is one of only four states in the country where texting while driving is a secondary offense, not a primary. That means a law enforcement officer can issue a ticket only if a driver has been pulled over for committing another traffic violation.

“This has become a culture on our roadways,” Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said Tuesday. “Injuries are increasing, fatalities are increasing, but our laws are not.”

READ: ‘Angry as hell’: Distracted crashes up, father wants action on phones

Slosberg has sent letters to all commissioners in the state asking for support. That local support is what’s needed to convince state legislators, she said.

“I think going to Tallahassee with the amount of support statewide will be persuasive,” she said. “It’s important to allow our local elected officials and local residents of every part of the state weigh in on this issue.”

Boynton’s commission unanimously backed Slosberg at Tuesday’s commission meeting after initially discussing it this month.

READ: Can a law make Florida streets safe from ‘smart phone zombies’?

“Everybody knows it’s bad,” Vice Mayor Justin Katz said at the Aug. 1 commission meeting. “Everybody does it to some degree. But hopefully most people, like myself, if I’m in the car and I see myself touching the phone, most of the time and I hope all the time in the future, I want to condition myself to not touch the phone because it’s not worth it.”

Boynton’s fire chief and police chief also support Slosberg’s efforts.

“I am an ardent supporter of legislation making texting and driving a primary offense,” Police Chief Jeffrey Katz said. “I always have been. Texting and driving is a deadly combination and these actions unquestionably threaten public safety.”

READ: Distracted walking ‘a death wish’ for pedestrians focused on phones

Texting is involved in 6 percent of U.S. accidents, and cellphone use including talking is a factor in 26 percent of crashes, the National Safety Council calculated in 2015.

Crashes in which a cell phone or other electronic communications device was cited increased 3 percent statewide to 3,866 and 20 percent to 302 in Palm Beach County, compared to 2015, The Palm Beach Post reported in July.

The first city to back Slosberg was Boca Raton, her hometown. Traffic safety has been a key concern for Slosberg and her father Irv Slosberg, who held the seat before her. In 1996 at age 14, Slosberg and her twin sister, Dori, were in a car crash on Palmetto Park Road. Dori was one of five teens killed in the crash. Seven of the nine in the car weren’t wearing seatbelts.

“It meant a lot that the city of Boca is on the team,” Slosberg said.

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