9 Investigates phone company influence on texting-while-driving bans

Updated:

Loading
ORLANDO, Fla. —

A statewide ban on texting-while-driving appears to be gaining momentum in Tallahassee this year after being shot down each of the past six years.

During that same time, phone companies spent millions of dollars donating to political campaigns and lobbying elected officials, so, 9 Investigates asked if there is a connection.

One local parent, Donald Mair, said there must be a connection. Mair said his daughter, Gabby, had just turned 12 and was getting off the school bus when a clearly distracted driver killed her as she crossed the street.

"If he was paying attention and had his eyes focused on the road, Gab was a big girl, there's no way he could've not seen her," said Mair.

But the driver was never charged.

Florida has no penalty for distracted driving, and anti-texting bills have died repeatedly in recent years.

Mair and others think big money flowing in Tallahassee may be why.

9 Investigates scoured piles of records and discovered, since 2007:

  • AT&T spent $8.4 million on lobbying alone and $1.3 million on political donations for the 2012 election
  • Verizon spent $1.4 million on lobbying and $333,000 on donations for the 2012 election
  • Sprint spent $480,000 on lobbying and almost $50,000 on donations for the 2012 election
  • T-Mobile spent $345,000 on lobbying and $27,000 on donations for the 2012 election


But Rep. Jason Brodeur, for one, doesn't believe there is a connection between that spending and the failure of anti-texting bills.

The phone companies agree: Every one of the companies mentioned told 9 Investigates it supports penalties for distracted driving.

Legislators who have met with tele-com lobbyists said the companies are usually more concerned with business issues like deregulation in the industry.

Brodeur believes anti-texting bills did not succeed in part because they weren't broad enough, failing to include other distractions also.

"I think that is something we need, not just singling out texting, but rather having inattentive driving in general," said Brodeur.

But with at least two texting bans voted down since Gabby died, her father is unconvinced. He believes all that money must have some impact behind closed doors.

"It's a no-brainer. It's just flat out common sense," said Mair.

Thirty-nine other states already have some type of anti-texting laws on the books. Supporters of a ban believe recent leadership changes in the state Legislature are helping their cause this year.

Phone Company Statements:

AT&T: “AT&T has taken a proactive approach to educate our employees, customers and the general public about the responsible use of phones in cars and to provide strategies to manage phone use responsibly while driving. As part of our ongoing commitment to driver safety, AT&T launched “It Can Wait,” a public awareness campaign dedicated to raising the awareness of all drivers, especially teens, about the risks of texting while driving. Not only have we supported in the past, we will continue to support future legislation that prohibits texting while driving.”

– Stephanie Smith, AT&T Spokesperson

Verizon: "Verizon supports legislation to ban texting and e-mailing while driving.  This approach is a logical extension of our previous breaks with other wireless companies to support statewide legislation banning texting and e-mailing while driving."

– Verizon Spokesperson

Sprint: “Sprint fully supports any state law/regulation that bans texting while driving, and makes no efforts to stop initiatives in this regard.”

– Sprint Spokesperson

T-Mobile: "T-Mobile USA is supportive of efforts to reduce distracted driving and endorses bans on texting while driving, including in the state of Florida."

–  T-Mobile Spokesperson