ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ On Jan. 3, 2008, Russell Hurd waited for his daughter at Walt Disney World near Orlando. They were about to plan her dream theme-park wedding.
But Heather Hurd was killed on her way to the meeting. She was a passenger in her fiance's car, which was stopped at a light when a trucker who was texting on his phone slammed into the vehicle and eight others. Heather and another woman were killed instantly, and six others were injured.
“We went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral,'' Hurd said. “I don't want another family to feel what I feel.''
The trucker pleaded no contest to a careless driving citation and has since died. This year, some Florida lawmakers hope to ban texting and driving, something 19 other states have already done.
More than a dozen bills are pending in the Florida House and Senate; some call for a ban on texting, others, a ban on cell phone use entirely. Hurd and others say that despite similar bills' lack of passage in previous years, the issue of texting while driving is too big to ignore in 2010.
“This topic has gotten so much interest as of late, that it's more likely than not that something will get passed,'' said Marianne Trussell, the chief safety officer of the Florida Department of Transportation.
It's unclear exactly how many crashes or fatalities have occurred in Florida because of texting; law enforcement doesn't collect the data during investigations unless a driver voluntarily admits to being distracted.
The National Safety Council released a report in January that claimed 28 percent of all traffic crashes _ that's about 1.6 million crashes a year _ are caused by drivers using cell phones or texting.
It's enough of a problem that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a federal ban on texting for commercial truck drivers last month.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers who text take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds _ which means that at 55 mph, a driver is crossing the length of a football field while not looking out the windshield.
According to Sterling Ivey, Gov. Charlie Crist's spokesman, the governor has not seen any specific bill language but has said he will support legislation that bans texting while driving.
Trussell said a possibly hindrance to passage is whether police will be able to enforce such laws.
“An unenforceable law is worse than no law at all,'' she said.
State Rep. Janet Long, D-St. Petersburg _ a co-sponsor of a texting-while-driving ban bill _ admits fiddling with her phone while behind the wheel.
Long said she was driving to a meeting recently and almost ran into three big poles when she looked down at her phone.
“I realized how quickly one or two seconds could change the dynamic behind the wheel,'' Long said. “It scared me.''
Long said response to her bill has been “mostly positive,'' with some folks opposed on the grounds that banning texting is an invasion of privacy.
“The innocent people on the highway have the right to be able to be on the road without having to fear that someone is texting,'' she said.
Hurd, who lives in Maryland, testified before that state's legislature about the issue in 2008, some two months after his daughter died. The bill didn't pass that year, but it gave Hurd and his wife a channel for their grief. In 2009, Maryland enacted “Heather's Law,'' which bans the use of texting while driving.
Hurd is hoping for similar success this year in Florida. He's planning to visit Tallahassee to tell the Legislature about his daughter's life and death.
The day: March 10, which would have been Heather's 29th birthday.