MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Texting while driving became illegal in Florida in 2013, but it’s only a secondary offense. That means the driver must be pulled over for something else first. Now, a local high school student is now leading the fight to stop it altogether.
“I called and got a ride to the hospital. They had told me both of my parents were air lifted. But when I got there only my dad was there.”
That was Yessica Torres when CBS4’s Vanessa Borge interviewed her five years ago.
Her mother was killed when a man T-boned her car while he was texting and driving in 2008. She’s one of many.
According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in 2015 a total of 39,468 people were injured and 216 more were killed as a result of distracted driving.
Forty-six states think texting and driving is so dangerous it’s banned.
Will Florida be next?
Mark Merwitzer, a 17-year-old from Palmetto Bay, hopes so. He is an unlikely lobbyist for the ban, but already proven a dedicated one.
“You’re 17. Do you drive?” Borge asked him.
“I do not yet, but that is part of the reason I am fighting for this. I am fearful of being behind the road because everyone is using their phone and this needs to be addressed,” he responded.
Merwitzer is making sure it is. Over the past year, the teen has met with youth councils, county officials and state legislators to argue that texting behind the wheel should be a primary offense.
The bill has passed two separate Senate committees.
There is a companion bill in the House sponsored by Democrat Emily Slosberg. It’s personal for Slosberg – her sister Dori was killed in a car crash in 1996.
Borge interviewed her father, former Florida Rep. Irv Slosberg, five years ago when he was trying to pass similar legislation.
“I feel very strongly that something is going to pass,” he said at the time.
It didn’t pass then, but champions like mark are the next generation ensuring it does.
“There are a lot of people in Miami-Dade County that are injured from this and even die from this and the Florida legislature hasn’t done much to address this issue,” Merwitzer said.
The 2017 Florida legislative session began weeks ago and runs through May 5th.
There are three other proposed bills that would, in some fashion, ban texting and driving.
The House has not scheduled a hearing for the bill Rep. Slosberg is sponsoring.