Florida Enacts Ban on Texting While Driving
A new texting while driving law was enacted in Florida recently, but critics say that the measure lacks teeth.
The law, which came into effect on Oct. 1, is a secondary offense, meaning police cannot pull over drivers unless they commit another infraction in addition to texting. At that point, the officer can write a $30 ticket for the phone use for a first offense.
The law does not address phone calls, allows for use of GPS while driving and does not prohibit texting when the vehicle is at a stop, such as at a red light. Additionally, prosecutors can only seek records from the phone company in the case of an accident that causes injury or death.
“We think it’s going to be a deterrent,” Florida Highway Patrol Captain Nancy Rasmussen told the Palm Beach Post. “People will know they’re not supposed to try to text while they’re behind the wheel. It’ll be another tool in our toolbox for traffic safety.”
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the state had 4,841 phone-related crashes in 2012.
Not Taken Seriously
Research by the National Safety Council found that there is a cell phone-related accident in the country every 24 seconds, or about 1.3 million times per year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2010 and using a phone ups the likelihood of a crash by 23 times.
Drivers who cause accidents while using a phone can face personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits and even murder charges in the most egregious cases. In a recent case in New Jersey, a judge suggested that a person who is not even in the vehicle can be liable for sending a text to a driver who then has an accident, if he or she has reasonable cause to suspect the person is driving.
Nationally, laws vary by state and are constantly being updated. Currently, 12 states plus Washington, D.C., ban handheld phone use while driving outright. In total, 41 states plus D.C. ban texting. There are numerous additional rules for novice drivers and school bus operators.
Florida is the most recent state to tighten its law, along with Maryland, which just upgraded its phone law from a secondary to a primary offense, meaning that you can get pulled over by the cops if they so much as spot a telephone in your hand.
One state legislator has already proposed a bill to change the law in Florida from secondary to primary as well.
“Our law just doesn’t go far enough,” says Alan Goldfarb, a Florida attorney who litigated a texting while driving wrongful death suit that resulted in an $8.8 million award in 2011. “In Miami, and throughout Florida, texting is such a rampant disease. The custom of driving today in Florida is one hand on the wheel and the other holding your phone in front of your face or close to the steering wheel.”
Goldfarb cites research that shows a texting driver can be more dangerous than a drunk driver and notes that the mind is distracted for up to a minute and a half after texting, even if the message was composed while stopped at a red light.
People frequently don’t think about the consequences of taking their eyes off the road to focus on a phone until it’s too late, as the attorney learned first-hand during his wrongful death lawsuit. “In my case, she died. You can be paralyzed, or not go back to work,” Goldfarb says. “It’s a horrible thing that has not been taken seriously.”