Why Florida’s Texting And Driving Law Might Be Ineffective

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While a statewide ban on texting and driving is about to take effect, some officials believe it may not be enough to solve the issue.

Florida’s law against texting and driving will be enforced starting Oct. 1. State Sen. Maria Sachs, one of the main proponents of the ban, believes policy makers need to toughen these laws in order to protect others at risk by distracted drivers.

“It’s not good yet and it’s not perfect yet,” Sachs said. “It is a step in the right direction.”

The bill, SB 52, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on May 28, prohibits motorists from using their cellphones to text or email while driving, with some exceptions. Drivers are allowed to use their devices while reporting criminal activity, listening to music or using text-to-talk systems such as Siri.

They may also text or email while stuck in traffic or at red lights, Sachs said.

The current violation for texting and driving is a secondary offense, which means police officers can only write a citation if the driver is pulled over for another violation.

Lt. Todd Kelly, Alachua County Sherriff’s Office spokesman, believes this will make it difficult for officials to enforce the law.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it is a small step,” Kelly said. “Being a secondary offense, the law takes a backseat, priority wise, because it’s not something that is easily enforceable. You are going to have to see some other violation first. It takes a little bite out of how serious of a stand the state is taking on it.”

Sachs is proposing a solution to critics’ remarks. She hopes to file a bill in the 2014 legislative session that would make the use of any handheld device illegal as a primary violation. Police officers would then be able to pull over motorists if they saw them using any device with their hands.

Sachs also believes there needs to be a cultural change regarding driving and technology.

“The overall goal isn’t just to save lives, it is to change the culture of drivers in Florida,” she said. “Just like we did with seatbelts, you need to do with technology.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, talking on a cellphone causes nearly 25 percent of car crashes. Additionally, in 2008 almost 6,000 people were killed and 500,000 were injured in crashes related to driver distraction.

To some, these statistics are chilling, and Sachs agrees.

“Hopefully, we will have gotten used to it and we can stop having deaths,” Sachs said. “Every year we wait, more people die and so many of them are young people. We have some work to do.”

Matt Redinger, the co-founder of a fitness company in Gainesville, said he used to text a lot more while driving because he wasn’t aware of the dangers and how bad it was. He now aims to only send text messages when he is stopped after seeing various educational campaigns spring up last year. However, he admits that it is very tempting to check his phone.

“I don’t think the law would stop me because it would be really hard to prove it,” Redinger, 28, said. “People will always check their phones because that’s the world we live in.”

Karen Smith, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Transportation, said FDOT is trying to educate the public about the dangers of texting and driving by launching a statewide campaign.

Oct. 1 will be “Put It Down” day, where all drivers are encouraged to consider the risks of distracted driving.

“We’re sure that we’ll see a decrease in fatalities and injuries related to texting and driving,” Smith said.

Florida was the 40th state to ban texting while driving, according to a press release from AAA.

In addition, 37 states plus D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam already consider texting a primary offense, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Only four states, including Florida, recognize it as a secondary law.

Kara Macek, the communications manager at GHSA, said educating the public and putting cops on the road will help change driving behaviors. She added that a secondary law is not ideal.

“The most improvement and success is with primary laws,” she said.

Like Florida, the state of Ohio treats texting and driving as a secondary offense. The law was enforced one year ago, but Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. Thomas Holbert said accident rates have not decreased. Although it is harder to track the violation, Holbert said he is hopeful that the law is making people more aware of the dangerous habit.

Similarly, Macek said the data is not exactly clear on how the law will affect accident rates because the issue is very new. Most laws in several states are fairly recent, and she said studies and statistics are still in the works.

Moreover, texting and cell phone policies differ from state to state, and some states are reluctant to get into the specifics.

But Macek added that enforcing any kind of cell phone law is better than nothing.

“Don’t rely on the law in your state,” she said. “Take it seriously and focus on driving.”

About Renee Beninate

Renee is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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  1. The Florida Law on texting and driving is a toothless tiger, at best.

    A secondary offense, and like a $30 ticket! You cannot even get pulled over for it!

    This “law” is a joke, and an insult to anyone with a shred of common sense.

    Texting and driving is equally as dangerous, and maybe even more dangerous than drinking and driving.

    If they really want to stop texting and driving, they need to make it a primary offense, so it can be the cause of your traffic stop, and then make the arrest just like a DUI.

    Problem solved.

    Anyone who texts and drives is a moron.

    • Montgomery Richmond

      I agree! Regarding DUI, I believe there have been studies down showing that texting is actually WORSE than driving while under the influence, since you don’t even have your eyes on the road.

      I like Maria Sach’s idea of banning hand held devices while driving. At minimum, you should have to go hands-free while driving and talking, and NO texting, surfing the internet, etc. etc. while your vehicle is in motion. Do what you want to at a red light, but once your vehicle is moving, put it down. It really should be that simple, but our lawmakers keep tip-toeing around the issue.

      Everywhere I look when I’m on the roads, all I see is people playing with their phones, chit chatting, etc. I really think most of these people just want “something to do” while they’re commuting. 99.9% of this can wait until you get home.

      • As for the Red Lights – that’s a problem as well – when they start holding up traffic and causing jams because they’re too busy ignoring the Lights or the beeping traffic stuck behind them.

    • Unfortunately even if they push it to primary status it will not yeild the same consequences as a DUI.

  2. Our lawmakers want a soft law because most of them probably text and drive!
    Unfortunately, one of their friends or family members will have to get killed before they will step up and enact a powerful law.

  3. I agree that the law will be very difficult to enforce, especially in terms of getting a ticket! If you read the law very closely (found this law description on The Hogan Law Firms website http://www.hoganlawfirm.com/news/florida-texting-while-driving-law–the-hogan-law-firm.aspx ) you can see it is very open for interpretation (by law enforcement) but also has language that would allow a judge to implement a stiff penalty to someone who gets in a serious accident while texting and driving. It will be very interesting to see the kind of criminal cases that come out of this law. Like the article said, hardly a perfect law, but a start! Thanks for the article!

  4. Instead of a complex law, what they should do is make using, any electronic device illegal period while driving. The penalty should be a hard spanking with a hairbrush by a hard a** leather clad dominatrix. I think second offenses would be a rare event. Why do people need laws, to invoke common sense?

  5. “The overall goal isn’t just to save lives, it is to change the culture of drivers in Florida,” she said. “Just like we did with seatbelts, you need to do with technology.”

    Although I do agree that there should be a law banning texting while driving – the writers are flawed with their assessment of the Seat Belt Ban.

    The voters in the State of Florida voted DOWN the Primary seatbelt law for over a decade. The Governor at the time – Charlie Crist along with the State Legislature – immediately after the last Voter refusal went behind our backs and pushed the law through anyway due to the Federal Government giving any State an extra $30 Million per year in additional funding.

    That is why Florida has a seatbelt law – not because of the statistics.

    If you look at the statistics a very very tiny low number of drivers / passengers without seatbelts actually incur injuries relative to the 214 million drivers in the US every day,

    9500 injuries per year (on everage) – including fatalities.

    That Percentage comes to roughly 0.0000443.

    That’s 4 zeros before the first number. That is 4 one hundred-thousandths of a percent. The fatalities are even significantly less than that.

    The law is in place because our State Government – like most any other government is about greed over the will of the people. Not because of some myhical high number of injuries and fataliites.

    So yeah – the writers of this article really should do better research before you print something you know nothing about.

    As for texting while driving – when you are texting instead of driving while behind the wheel of a car and you are not paying attention to where the hell you are going and slam into – I will let it happen and then sue the ever living sh*t out of you !!

  6. To us it is all about the gadgetorial accessibility, and, especially, gadgetorial accessibility while stationary in the vehicle. Don’t Text & Drive! Drivers shouldn’t do anything other than Drive while Driving or moving in their vehicles! We are also a proud contributor to the Distracted Driving Foundation! The phones/gadgets operations can be limited during vehicular motion via carrier technology available today! http://www.ddfn.org/

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