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Hello Reddit, I am the Youngest Lobbyist in the State of Florida. I am Fighting to Ban Texting While Driving! AMA!

My name is Mark Merwitzer. I am a 17-year-old high school student who has been working for the past 18 months with local and state legislators to make texting while driving a primary offense in the state of Florida.

This Tuesday I had the privilege of testifying before the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee in support of House Bill 33. House Bill 33 makes texting while driving a primary offense, which gives police officers the ability to pull over and issue citations to drivers who are texting behind the wheel. I have also been pushing Senate Bill 90, the Senate companion bill to House Bill 33 in the Senate Transportation Committee.

To push for this primary ban I have been working extremely closely with Miami-Dade County and other municipalities. By pushing them to pass urgings and hire lobbyist to support this initiative, the Florida legislature has seen a massive push from numerous local governments across Florida. Their voices are strongly considered as they contribute a tremendous amount to the state tax pool.

With this amount of heavy support, texting while driving is highly likely to become a primary offense this year. I feel I am knowledgeable about the Florida political climate and what it is like to get a bill through the Florida Legislature.

Thank you very much in advance for your interest, I look forward to your questions. AMA! My Proof

More Proof

Please consider supporting my efforts Here. I am only a student and flights to Tallahassee extremely expensive, with the notice I receive. Thank you very much in advance!

Update: I am signing off for now. Thank you very much for all your questions. I will answer any questions you leave tomorrow.

74 comments
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Are there currently any laws in Florida against distracted driving? If so, does that make this law redundant?

It's currently a secondary offence, meaning you can't be pulled over solely for it but it can be added on to anotehr citation.

Here's the current statute.

How many young redditors are about to learn that lobbying isn't a bad thing, and actually protected by the first ammendment?

How many do you think will have their minds blown by this fact?

Original Poster3 points·3 months ago

How many young redditors are about to learn that lobbying isn't a bad thing, and actually protected by the first ammendment?

Lobbying isn't a bad thing at all. What is often terrible is compensated lobbying, where that said lobbyist has connections with many PACs that can raise money for campaigns. I believe that Citizens United V FEC definitely made it harder for people to communicate with their government, if they do not have access to large sums of money for political campaigns.

How many do you think will have their minds blown by this fact?

That is partly why I am doing this AMA!

Unpaid lobbying* 9/10 of them can still shove it up their ass

How did you become a lobbyist? What do you do?

Texting while driving is bad, keep up the good fight!

Original Poster7 points·3 months ago

How did you become a lobbyist?

I became a lobbyist when I first I walked into my county-commissioner's office. I had the goal of doing a ban at a local level, but I quickly learned that Florida prohibited local regulation of texting while driving. Anyone can be a lobbyist, all you have to do is heavily advocate for an issue and you are a lobbyist by definition. I am working with an organized coalition, and therefore am a lobbyist.

What do you do?

As Chairman of the Palmetto Bay Youth Community Involvement Board as well as an intern for a Miami-Dade County Commissioner, my platform enabled me to solicit support from local governments and neighboring youth councils. I attended numerous government and youth council meetings across Miami-Dade County to educate my community on the dangers of texting while driving, and the ineffectiveness of the current law. After gaining their support, I spearheaded an urging to have the state legislature make texting while driving a primary offense. Having others acknowledge the problem is a major step to solving it. This victory caught the eye of the politicians within the community citing their desire for primary enforcement. With support for the urging from the youth and local municipalities, I brought the issue to the next level: my county government. I communicated my push to make texting while driving a primary offense and for the first time, the county made this cause a top legislative priority. Through presentations and frequent contact, I secured the county’s support for two years in a row. With the backing of Miami-Dade County, it was time for me to take the fight to Florida’s Capital, Tallahassee. As challenging as it was to meet with state politicians, I convinced a Senator and a House Representative to sponsor a bill to change the current law to a primary offense. After they filed the bill, I reached out to State Representatives and asked for their support. I also presented in front of numerous House and Senate Committees, as seen in the proof.

Texting while driving is bad, keep up the good fight!

Thank you for your support!

He's not a lobbyist. They have to register, and he's not registered. He's just someone who is really, really into a particular issue.

https://www.floridalobbyist.gov/LobbyistInformation/GetLobbyistPrincipal

Original Poster7 points·3 months ago

I am not legally required to register because I am not working for compensation. By lobbying I am going by what I have been dubbed by local sources and the dictionary definition.

Do you have any evidence that issuing citations for texting while driving will actually cause people to text less while driving? Or is this just another way to siphon hard-earned money from working class people? How would you even prove this kind of thing in court, as it seems like it would be easy to deny and hard to prove that someone was actually texting while driving instead of doing something else?

Original Poster10 points·3 months ago

Do you have any evidence that issuing citations for texting while driving will actually cause people to text less while driving? Or is this just another way to siphon hard-earned money from working class people? How would you even prove this kind of thing in court, as it seems like it would be easy to deny and hard to prove that someone was actually texting while driving instead of doing something else?

Great questions! I actually had these questions come up multiple times in committee hearings. Let me break down your questions.

Do you have any evidence that issuing citations for texting while driving will actually cause people to text less while driving?

To be honest, there are many conflicting studies at the moment. This issue has not been studied very well. But what I can tell you is when Florida switched their seat-belt law from a secondary to a primary offense, compliance rates skyrocketed. Switching a law to a primary offense has proven to work in the past. Further, I have a study that shows that car-related hospialization rates decrease with texting bans.

Or is this just another way to siphon hard-earned money from working class people?

Bit of a loaded question here. But no one is forcing that person to text while they drive. If someone does not want to have their money "siphoned" away from them, all they have to do is follow an easy law.

How would you even prove this kind of thing in court, as it seems like it would be easy to deny and hard to prove that someone was actually texting while driving instead of doing something else?

My favorite question of the bunch. In committee, a Florida Highway Patrol Chief testified on how this law will be proven in court. It is pretty easy for a trained highway officer to know when someone is entering numerous characters onto a mobile device. All they have to do is issue the citation and testify in court about it. If the case turns into a police officer's word versus a defendant's, the court may subpoena the defendant's time stamps of their text messages and phone usage. For the sake of privacy, only the time stamps will be used in court. Further my proposal prohibits a police officer from looking at someone's phone on scene without a warrant, in compliance with Riley V California.

My favorite question of the bunch. In committee, a Florida Highway Patrol Chief testified on how this law will be proven in court. It is pretty easy for a trained highway officer to know when someone is entering numerous characters onto a mobile device. All they have to do is issue the citation and testify in court about it. If the case turns into a police officer's word versus a defendant's, the court may subpoena the defendant's time stamps of their text messages and phone usage.

This is the only thing I have a problem with. I use my phone for music all the time. If I was pulled over, I'm not going to argue. Just write me for whatever you'd like to write me for please. But then you will have an officer say they saw me texting, even if I wasn't. How is that fair? How can they prove that? Seriously.

Furthermore, text messages aren't the only way people message eachother. People use Snapchat and Facebook Messenger all the time. You aren't going to see those messages from your carrier.

I just don't know the solution.

If I were

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

That is one of the main things I have been working on. I am currently working with the bill sponsor to make it so you can voluntarily enter the time stamps of your phone records into evidence to prove your innocence.

This is a complicated issue. I don't agree with everything you're pushing, but it is goddamn patriotic that you are doing what you're doing. It's a good feeling to be part of the process, right? There are so many people who whine on Facebook and yet wouldn't even consider writing their legislators. That's because what you're doing is difficult. It's people like you that are willing to change the laws. So thank you.

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

Thank you for your kind words and support!

If the case turns into a police officer's word versus a defendant's, the court may subpoena the defendant's time stamps of their text messages and phone usage. For the sake of privacy, only the time stamps will be used in court. Further my proposal prohibits a police officer from looking at someone's phone on scene without a warrant, in compliance with Riley V California.

Okay, so what do you do about SnapChat? There is no record of the conversation.

Original Poster4 points·3 months ago

Okay, so what do you do about SnapChat? There is no record of the conversation.

No law is perfect and I am not an expert on the enforcement side of the proposal, hence why I cited the Florida Highway Patrol Officer. I would imagine that there would be other ways to prove the violation in that case.

I have a hard time imaging FHP will be able to do what Federal law enforcement hasn't been able to accomplish. If you can't address enforcement, all you're doing is penalizing SnapChat's competitors.

Original Poster4 points·3 months ago

I have a hard time imaging FHP will be able to do what Federal law enforcement hasn't been able to accomplish.

Can you link me to what you are referencing? Would be much appreciated.

I did some digging for you and found SnapChat's information about what they log for law enforcement.

https://storage.googleapis.com/snap-inc/privacy/lawenforcement.pdf

You said the officer wouldn't be able to look at the phone, but then they wouldn't be able to obtain the user ID, which is necessary for obtaining the logs. They'd have to get a subpoena to look at the phone to get the username to get the subpoena to request the log from SnapChat. That's a lot of footwork to get a single timestamp for a ticket. You'd be wasting a lot of LEOs time by making that sort of enforcement a requirement.

So while they may be able to obtain it (hopefully within the 31 days that SnapChat retains the info on their servers), is it worth the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the various officers of the court and judge to get the information? My opinion, and I suspect most LEOs will agree, is a resounding no.

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

From my understanding, the defendant usually pays the court costs if found guilty, so there would be minimal burden on taxpayers in this scenario.

Time is a cost. How many police officers are going to want to spend time running down the timestamp of some asshat kid that was using SnapChat? He just won't show up at court and the ticket will get dismissed. I get what you're going for, but by focusing on something that's difficult to prove, you end up wasting law enforcement's time. The only option I see is to expand the scope and use video evidence from the dashboard cam as proof.

How it gets proven in court is the officer says so and you pay up, just like every other traffic offense.

That’s why this law is a joke and another restriction on what we, the people can do in our day to day lives. This law will only give police more leeway in pulling over people, and they can merely claim they “thought” you were texting and driving.

Would the proposed law cover other uses of a phone while driving? Like using your GPS or using it to listen to music? Or just texting?

Original Poster3 points·3 months ago

The proposal distinctly allows GPS usage while driving. What is prohibited under the proposal is "entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging."

In Ontario the law prohibits holding an electronic device while driving. So you can key stuff into the gps/phone if it's mounted to your dash, but holding the phone is against the rules, whether you are talking, texting, crushing candy, or just reading something. Very easy to enforce. If they see you holding the phone, you're automatically guilty.

Original Poster1 point·3 months ago

That is the ideal law. The first step is to make texting while driving a primary offense, then reform other areas of the statute.

If this is your ideal law, you’re going to have a lot of pissed off people. Mounting your phone to your dash is stupid, I certainly don’t want to do it, and plenty others agree with me. This bill is garbage.

So when I’m changing a song in my car or looking at my GPS I’ll still be pulled over and harassed, when all I’m doing is minding my own business. Golly gee; I sure do love giving powerful police officers MORE power!

Very interesting. Thank you!

Isn't the main issue here probable cause and search and seizure? How is an officer conducting a traffic stop supposed to determine if you entered multiple characters into your device without possession of the device? Can't you just politely decline to hand over your phone?

I'm writing my senator and congressman to be in opposition to this law. This is a gross overstepping of what law enforcement should be allowed to do. We don't need to give officers a free ticket to pull whoever they want over, and that's what this is.

Original Poster1 point·3 months ago

Isn't the main issue here probable cause and search and seizure? How is an officer conducting a traffic stop supposed to determine if you entered multiple characters into your device without possession of the device? Can't you just politely decline to hand over your phone?

Riley V California protects someone who does not want to hand their phone over to a police officer. The current bill makes it clear to the person being pulled over of their rights.

How is an officer conducting a traffic stop supposed to determine if you entered multiple characters into your device without possession of the device?

Just like any other infraction, they can clearly see it.

Can't you just politely decline to hand over your phone?

Yes.

How is a cop looking through a window supposed to distinguish between someone texting and someone doing any of the hundreds of other legitimate things someone can do on a phone?

Most states have some policy on using handheld devices while driving. I know it's banned in the state of VA and MD, at least.

Only 15 states ban handheld devices and those laws predate the ubiquitous use of cell phones as navigation devices and should be repealed.

Original Poster1 point·3 months ago

legitimate things someone can do on a phone

There are no legitimate things someone can do on there phone while driving except for calling 911 and using it for navigation purposes. Doing anything on a phone except for those things is an unneeded distraction and a safety hazard.

distinguish between someone texting and someone doing any of the hundreds of other

The law states that "A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging." This law goes beyond the scope of texting and allows the police officer to issue a citation when they see a violator doing anything with their phone that is prohibited in the statute. Further, there will be a lot of training for police on how to properly enforce this law.

I know what the law says. You didn't answer the question. How can an officer tell if you're using your phone for navigation, which the law allows, or reading a text, which the law prohibits? He can't.

Comment deleted3 months ago

I like this law. I guess my flip phone isn't gonna cut it though.

What stance do you take on the fact that motorcycle owners don't need to be insured (except for personal injury insurance) and don't have to wear a helmet yet not wearing a seatbelt is a primary offense?

Original Poster1 point·3 months ago

motorcycle owners don't need to be insured

I have not looked into the issue that much. But what I do know is I was involved in an accident and was found not at fault. The lady had the minimum amount of coverage and was not able to cover all the damages. I know from first hand experience that if someone does not have good insurance, the person who is at fault is going to have to come out of pocket for the damages. Often times, people are not in the best financial position to pay those kinds of damages, causing the victim to have to come out of pocket if they want their vehicle fixed. I do not believe someone should have to come out of pocket because of someone's lack of insurance.

don't have to wear a helmet

If someone does not want to wear a helmet on a motorcycle, that is on them. The only people they are causing a danger to is themselves. Now if they get hit by someone and get skull damage, I do expect their damages be paid out to them in full. It was their decision to take the risk of not wearing a helmet.

Do you support not wearing a seatbelt being a primary offense?

Original Poster0 points·3 months ago

I ideologically believe that it is the state's duty to protect it's people. So yes, I support the current seatbelt law. I have seen data where compliance rates as a primary offense went up and fatalities in motor vehicles also declined.

But I can see where someone is coming from when they disagree. If someone wants to be an idiot and only endanger themselves, they should have every right to.

Your arguments contract themselves. Someone not wearing a seatbelt is acting as much an idiot and endangering only themselves as someone who chooses not to wear a helmet. So you must also support a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

I don't disagree I just think it makes no sense when clearly not wearing a helmet is more dangerous.

Original Poster0 points·3 months ago

Well cars come factory equipped with seatbelts while motorcycles do not come with helmets. A helmet law would be a difficult mandate for many cyclist to follow.

And yet in Florida it is illegal to not wear a bicycle helmet at a certain age.

Source

Original Poster1 point·3 months ago

Kids generally make poorer decisions than adults and a kid should not risk their life just because their parents let them.

2 points·3 months ago·edited 3 months ago

Yeah but when there is liability involved as an adult in a car vs motorcycle crash I believe that if seat belts are required then helmets should be too. Remember the legal age to drive a car is 16 in most states, with 15 being the age when you are able to drive provisionally.

Can you provide proof of your Florida lobbyist registration? I can find no record of your name on https://floridalobbyist.gov/

Original Poster1 point·3 months ago

I am not legally required to register because I am not working for compensation. By lobbying I am going by what I have been dubbed by numerous local sources and the dictionary definition. Thank you for your question.

I'm probably late to the party and won' get a response, but it's my opinion that making it illegal will have the added effect of people trying to be "stealthy" with their texting, therefore moving the phone farther from their line of sight of the road, and having the unintended consequence of making these diehard texting drivers more dangerous to themselves and others.

What's your response to this?

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

unintended consequence of making these diehard texting drivers more dangerous to themselves and others.

What's your response to this?

I really do not think people are that smart and methodical when they subconsciously pick up their phone to text while they drive. Usually if the person committing the infraction is being "stealthy" and causing a danger, it is likely that they could be pulled over for unintentionally violating another law. Secondly, police departments have been getting stealthy too.

First off, I appreciate the response. I didn't expect one tbh.

I drive an Isuzu box truck, so it's easy to get a glimpse of what people are doing in their cars while driving, and when I see someone doing something dumb, I usually see that their phone is in/near their lap, and that their bad driving is a product of them having to divide their attention between the phone and the road.

If they're at a stop light, such as is easy to assume in the link you provided, I don't see the problem so long as they're not holding up traffic. I'd much rather be around people that wait for a stop light to check their phones than while at speed. This seems like just another revenue generation tool for police rather than something done for public safety.

I have my phone mounted up on the dash, fairly close to the windshield, and it feels much safer than before I had the dash mount, seeing as I no longer have to turn my head to look at Waze. Before I had the mount, it sat either in my lap or on the center console, where I had to divert my attention from the road just to check it.

Anyways, I'm being long-winded, so in the name of brevity, I think that this is unnecessary and that people that just cannot wait for a safer time to check their phone will wind up keeping the phone out of their line-of-sight of the road, thereby increasing the likelihood of them causing an accident rather than keeping it in their line-of sight. Prohibition of various things/actions just doesn't work, so while it's a great idea in theory, I think it will backfire. A possible solution I could possibly see working would be harsher penalties if an accident is caused by texting while driving, but not penalizing texting and driving on its own.

How hard is high school when you're this uncool?

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Do you think that self driving cars will help?

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

Yes, the less room for human error the better. As a matter of fact, the current proposal has an exception for autonomous vehicles.

How do you think users can work to get this going in other states? As someone that walks around often (to work, for groceries), I see SO many people texting while driving. Do you think that this is the right first step? Or do you think that insurance companies also need to make policy as well? Also, if it comes down to a time stamp- what's to say that people couldn't be using the "voice" feature to text?

Here in VA any handheld device use is banned- though I'm not sure what the statistics are for how many people actually get caught and/or pulled over for this. I know even with voice to text, you technically have to have your phone in your hand, and be in a message, and THEN click the microphone to do it, but still. Not sure how specific the ban is. Doesn't seem effective to me, which is sad and frustrating. BAN THE TEXTING WHILE DRIVING!!!

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

How do you think users can work to get this going in other states?

This is already a primary offense in most other states. I would encourage someone to call their state representative and ask them for a full handheld ban if they are already in a state that bans texting while driving, but not handheld use.

Do you think that this is the right first step?

Yes, this is only a first step to a handheld ban.

Also, if it comes down to a time stamp- what's to say that people couldn't be using the "voice" feature to text?

If people were using their voice to text, they would not be pulled over in the first place. This is why I would eventually like to see a full handheld ban.

How will you feel when this law is used as a dragnet and people are murdered by the police over it?

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago

An ill-intentioned police officer already has a plethora of legal justifications to use as a pretext should harassment be their intention.

I'm stoned to my gills, doyoy support marijuana?

Original Poster2 points·3 months ago·edited 3 months ago

I support legalized, taxed, and regulated marijuana. With that said I also believe we need to have more mental health outreach and better funding for rehab institutions.

Edit: A word

Wow, what a textbook responce, almost as i u were government

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