Actions

Advocates hope man’s 30-year sentence for using cellphone while driving could push for 'hands-free' law

State's current no texting and driving law is one of weakest in the country
Posted at 9:43 AM, Jun 19, 2023

New efforts to beef up Florida’s no texting and driving law are starting to move.

Advocates, including Jennifer Smith of stopdistractions.org, are now banding together with other groups to push for hands-free legislation in Florida.

"If we get the phone out of the hand with clear laws that say you can’t do these things, just focus on driving, that’s when you see lives saved," Smith said.

Her organization, which helped pass Florida’s current no texting and driving law, has worked to get hands-free legislation successfully passed in 26 states, most recently Michigan.

Smith sees Florida as fertile ground for hands-free.

The push for a hands-free Florida comes after we discovered Florida’s current texting and driving law is one of the weakest in the country.

In an impact check investigation last month https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/state/sheriff-judd-calls-florida-law-banning-texting-and-driving-useless-but-is-it, we found the 2019 law has done little to curb distracted driving crashes or, encourage any significant consequences for texting and driving.

Over a 2 1/2-year period since the law went into effect, we found law enforcement agencies in Florida had issued about 8500 citations in total statewide.

Outspoken Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County called Florida’s current law on texting and driving, “useless.”

"This is what we call a clunky law. It takes two Philadelphia lawyers and a mental health counselor to dissect this law," he told Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone in April.

In many of the 26 states that have adopted hands free legislation, Michelle Avola-Brown of Naples Pathway Coalition said states have seen significant changes.

"They are seeing an immediate and significant reductions in crashes and fatalities. So why shouldn’t Florida have that same benefit," she said.

This week, 40-year-old Florida father of two, Gregory Andriotis, was given the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for causing a deadly crash on Interstate 75 near Brooksville n 2016.

The wreck seriously injured Brooke, Jordan and Mallory Scherer, and killed 9-year-old Logan Scherer.

The investigation found Andriotis was downloading apps and spreadsheets on his cell before he slammed into the back of the Scherer’s SUV while the family of four was stuck in traffic.

The case is the first cellphone-related driving case to go to trial in Florida and now the first to end in a prison sentence.

"Every time someone gets in their car and makes that choice, it will now be met with a punishable action or consequence," an emotional Brooke Scherer moments said after the sentencing was announced.

The Scherer’s tragedy helped inspire Florida’s 2019 law banning texting and driving.

While they’ve since moved out of Florida, Brooke and Jordan Scherer hope the end of their case, will motivate lawmakers in Florida to take the current law further to hands-free.

"Our fight has not just been for Logan and Mallory and our family, but for all the other Logans and families that will come after," Brooke Scherer said.

The big challenge for groups advocating for hands-free legislation is getting a Republican lawmaker to sponsor a hands-free bill. Arguments have historically centered around privacy and freedom issues, hot button topics that will likely continue to be a tough sell for Florida’s GOP majority.