Florida was one of the last states in the country to pass a bill banning the use of text messaging by drivers. While traffic safety advocates lauded the fact Florida was finally jumping on the bandwagon in 2013, many wondered from the start how truly effective the measure would be.
The biggest problem, then as it is now, is the fact texting is a secondary traffic offense. What that means is an officer who spots a driver actively operating a motor vehicle while fiddling with his phone can take virtually no enforcement action unless the officer notices the driver violating some other traffic law.
State lawmakers say that needs to change.
So far this year, legislators have introduced three measures that would strengthen Florida’s texting-while-driving law, making it a primary offense rather than a secondary one. All would allow officers to pull over a texting driver immediately. If the offense occurred near a cross walk or in a school zone, the maximum fine would double.
According to WINK News, there have been very few citations handed out locally for texting-and-driving violations. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office reportedly issued 42 since the law took effect. In Fort Myers, the police department have given out just 35. In Charlotte County, the sheriff’s office has issued just 7.
Police officers say if the offense were deemed primary, the ticket rate would “skyrocket.”
Officers have gotten pretty deft at noticing when someone is texting and driving, particularly at night. Said one lieutenant, “It’s pretty obvious when your face is glowing from your phone.”
Boosting Florida’s anti-texting law to a primary offense might also bolster our standing with the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The consumer and insurance safety group’s most recentreport gave Florida the worst rating – red – when it came to legislation intended to keep drivers safe.
Study authors gave states one of three ratings: Green for good, yellow for requiring improvement and red for danger. Florida was one of nine states given a red danger rating, finding the state had just six of the 15 basic traffic safety laws enacted. Several of the missing provisions involved a lack of teen driving restrictions, as well as a lack of tough cell phone safety laws.
These are what the group considers “lethal loopholes.”
Our Cape Coral accident attorneys firmly believe addressing these shortfalls should be a top priority, considering the state tallied more than 2,400 traffic deaths in 2103, resulting in a $12 billion economic loss statewide. That’s in addition to the enormous losses suffered by those seriously and permanently injured by negligent drivers, as well as the devastating impact to survivors left behind.
It’s known at least 85 fatal crashes on Florida roads between 2010 and 2011 were attributable to distracted driving, according to federal figures. The actual number is likely far higher, as not all instances of cell phone distraction are proven. Worse, those figures are believed to have risen since then, as the number of people with phones has increased too.
Unfortunately, Florida has a history of dragging its feet on these kinds of issues. Consider the state seat belt law was enacted as a secondary offense in 1986. It took another 23 years before lawmakers passed a bill making failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense. In the meantime, many people were unnecessarily killed or seriously injured as a result of not buckling up.
We can’ afford to take the same approach here.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Lawmakers look into strengthening texting and driving law, Jan. 13, 2015, By Megan Contreras, WINK News
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