The Florida Highway Patrol reports that in the last three years, the number of distracted driving accidents in Florida has shot up by 25 percent.
Part of this has to do with the ever-expanding access to smart phones and people’s unwillingness to put them down while driving.
As the school year is slated to begin soon, there is special concern that this will translate to children in jeopardy. Whether they are walking, biking, being driven or driving themselves, students are going to be at high risk for distraction-related crashes during their morning and afternoon commutes.
In 2013, a study by AAA revealed Florida had the third-highest rate of child pedestrian fatalities in the country. More than one half of those happened during the hours children were going to and from school.
F.S. 316.305 prohibits texting or using wireless communication devices to type characters or symbols while operating a motor vehicle. This is not merely a suggestion – it’s the law. Unfortunately, it’s one that is not widely enforced in Florida for two reasons:
- It is not a primary offense (meaning police have to also observe you violating some other traffic offense in addition to this one in order to initiate a stop)
- The fine is just $30
Texting while driving is not just careless, it’s reckless. It kills. That’s why lawmakers are working to beef up the law in the 2016 legislative session.
One proposal, introduced by Rep. Richard Stark (D, Weston), would double the fines for individuals caught texting while driving in a school zone. Stark noted the problem noted has involved more parents than students.
There is also a pending measure that would bump the crime of texting-while-driving up to a primary offense. Florida is one of just five states in the country to consider texting a secondary offense. The ban on texting and driving passed in Florida in 2013, and over the course of two years, less than 2,100 citations were issued statewide. Law enforcement officers express frustration. They see people every day putting lives in jeopardy by texting while driving – which is illegal – but they can’t do anything about it absent some other offense.
Advocates say changing it to a primary offense will help authorities crack down on enforcing it in a way that will actually be meaningful – and perhaps result in fewer distracted driving deaths.
Consider that glancing down at a phone screen for five seconds while traveling 55 mph will mean your eyes have been off the road for the entire length of a football field.
But it’s worth noting that extensive research has suggested that simply talking on one’s cell phone is sufficiently distracting from the task of driving. It’s not illegal – yet – but that doesn’t mean drivers shouldn’t take heed, especially in a school zone, where there are many young children and novice drivers.
Last year, more than 3,150 people were killed and another 425,000 injured nationally as a result of traffic collisions that occurred due to distracted driving. Approximately 10 percent of all distracted driving crashes involve a driver under the age of 20. Drivers between the ages of 20 and 29 are responsible for 31 percent of all distracted driving crashes.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
School zone safety as kids head back to school, Aug. 24, 2015, By Alecea Rush, KTXS.com
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Wilde v. Okechobee Aerie – Florida Jury Awards $11M in Fatal DUI Accident, Aug. 25, 2015, Fort Myers Child Injury Attorney Blog