An estimated 50,000 crashes every year in Florida are attributed to distraction, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. These collisions lead to 3,500 serious bodily injuries and nearly 250 deaths. Further, it’s a phenomenon that has spiked 26 percent just in the last four years, largely thanks to the advent of cell phones.
But for all the destruction and havoc it wreaks, texting and driving is not a primary offense in Florida. What this means is a law enforcement officer may clearly spot a driver who is in violation of F.S. 316.305 (Florida’s texting-and-driving law), and would be able to do nothing about it – even with clear and unequivocal proof – unless that driver was also in violation of a primary offense.
That could change if a bill passes that would make texting while driving a primary offense. It’s not the first time such a measure has been proposed, as The Tampa Bay Times reports, but this time it has the support of several key legislative leaders. The new bill would keep the fine for texting and driving at a meager $30 and there still would not be any points added to the driver’s record if there was a violation. The main difference would be that officers would have the power to stop and cite motorists solely for violating that offense.
As it now stands, 43 states have already made this move. Florida is one of three that consider it a secondary offense. Two others don’t have any state law, and another only bans it for commercial drivers and those 21 and younger.
The U.S. government posits that 3,500 people are killed nationally by drivers who are distracted with text messages. That works out to more than nine daily. Additionally, another 400,000 are estimated to suffer injuries in these crashes. These estimates are likely low because unlike drunk driving, texting and driving isn’t easily tracked.
Although there are some skeptics – particularly given that the texting and driving laws are not as greatly enforced as some would hope – there is evidence that such legislation does work. For instance, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that five of the seven states that had the highest rates of fatalities for texting-and-driving offenses did NOT have primary offense statutes. Further, a study several years ago by researchers at the University of Alabama revealed there was a 3 percent decrease in the number of deaths in states that had what is considered a “full texting ban,” where the offense is considered a primary one for all road users.
Our personal injury lawyers in Orlando understand that some of those reticent to support such a law cite concerns over racial profiling, noting there were disparate patterns in seat belt enforcement cases in Florida. Supporters of the primary texting bill say while that may be a legitimate concern, it is something that can be closely tracked and monitored. The risk of waiting to enact or not enacting the safety measure, they say, is too heavy a price to pay.
Drivers between the ages of 20 and 24 are the most likely to be involved in distracted driving crashes, according to FHSMV. All drivers under age 30 account for an estimated 20,000 distracted driving crashes annually in Florida.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Texting ban may soon be enforced on Florida’s deadly roads, Dec. 30, 2017, Associated Press
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