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Gainesville-area law enforcement officers hoping for texting-and-driving bill with teeth

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You don't have to drive far to see a phone in a driver's hand.

The Florida Highway Patrol says in 2016 distracted driving caused 50,000 crashes that killed 235 people and injured more than 3,500 more.

“It’s all important," Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said. "Seconds don’t seem like much, but it can be tragic.”

Tragedy, all because of a text message.

“Florida is so way behind on the times here," Gainesville Police Officer Ben Tobias said. "And we certainly have enough crashes as a result in distracted driving to put us even further behind the times.”

In 2013 Florida passed a law that made texting a secondary offense, meaning a driver can only be ticketed if they are pulled over for other reasons.

The state is now one of only four states in which texting still isn't a primary offense.

“While the first law was a very good step in the right direction, it certainly did not give law enforcement the teeth it really needed to make an effort on this," Tobias said.

Sen. Keith Perry is trying to change that.

"We’re talking about the ability you now have to endanger other people," Perry said. "And the government has an absolute responsibility and duty to make sure we are protecting peoples lives from other people, and texting and driving, the data is overwhelming.”

Perry's bill, SB 90, has so far survived two committees and is now in front of the appropriations committee of the Senate.

“This is the year," Perry said. "I’ve been working on this for four years and this is the year."

The bill could become law as early as mid-March.

On Thursday the House version of the bill cleared its third committee. One amendment would require police to document the race of the drivers to ensure one race isn't targeted more than others.

“The goal of the bill is not to pull people over, the goal of the bill is not to give people tickets, the goal is to change behavior and save lives," Perry said.

Riordan said no message is worth a life.

“No phone call is worth the distraction of the terrible consequences that could happen when you do get distracted momentarily. And it can change lives.”

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