Texting and driving in Florida
Texting while driving is incredibly dangerous. According to some studies, it is as dangerous as or even more dangerous than driving drunk. In 2009, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found texting while driving was significantly more risky than talking on the cell phone. While dialing and talking on the cell phone did increase the chances of being in a crash, a texting driver was 23.2 times more likely than a non-distracted driver to be involved in a crash. This in large part appears to be due to the lengthy period of time the average texting driver takes their eyes off the road–4.6 seconds over a 6 second interval. The study compared this to driving the length of a football field at 55 mph without ever looking at the road.
Thirty-nine states have enacted laws against texting and driving. Florida remains one of the few states that has not passed a single distracted driving law. Some Florida lawmakers are working to make our roads safer. On November 13, 2012, over 270 safety advocates, researchers, law enforcement officers, and other officials gathered in Tampa for the Florida Distracted Driving Summit, where keynote speaker Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said it was “critical that this change.”
The statistics on the consequences of texting and driving are alarming. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports distracted driving killed almost 3,100 people nationwide and injured another 416,000 in 2010. The Center For Disease Control published statistics indicating 52% of U.S. drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 admitted to texting or emailing while driving at least once during the last 30 days. Despite the risks, all bills introduced since 2006 in the Florida legislature to address the dangers associated with texting and driving have failed.
Many believe the time has come for Florida to pass a ban on texting and driving. A Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Herald survey of 800 voters during the November election showed over 70% of those polled support a statewide ban on texting while driving. On October 23, 2012, Florida’s Governor requested studies on texting and driving after the Department of Highway Safety issued a report showing a 4% increase in Florida’s traffic fatalities for 2012. Senator Nancy Detert’s 2012 bill (Senate Bill 416) has had the most success to date, advancing through four Senate votes before dying on the calendar, and she has pre-filed new legislation for 2013, her fourth attempt to outlaw text messaging. Billed as the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law (Senate Bill 52), Senator Detert’s proposed legislation would outlaw texting, emailing, and instant messaging for all drivers in Florida and carry a six point penalty for causing an accident while illegally using a handheld device.
Other legislators are also supporting continued efforts to address the issue in 2013, including Representative Doug Holder, who has pre-filed House Bill 13 as a companion bill to Senate Bill 52, and Senator Marcia Sachs, who has introduced the Florida Ban on Communicating While Driving Law (Senate Bill 74), which would prohibit texting and the use of all handheld communications devices for drivers in Florida. Rep. Holder expressed to the Tampa Tribune in mid-December 2012 that “Generally conservatives are somewhat reluctant to let government have control. I am conservative, but (distracted driving) has become an epidemic.”
With the increasing pressure of being on the rapidly shrinking list of states that have failed to address texting and driving, look for Florida to be in the news on this issue in 2013.
This blog post was written by Warren R. Todd. To read more by Warren please read PensacolaLawyer.com.