On October 1st, 2013, Florida became the 41st state to enact a law against
texting while driving. On the same day the law went into effect, state
Sen. Maria Sachs announced a proposed bill that would toughen the existing law.
In its existing form, the current law is extremely difficult for police
to enforce because it defines texting as a secondary violation. This means
that law enforcement cannot stop a driver solely for the purpose of texting
while driving. The driver must be stopped for another offense such as
speeding or reckless driving.
Additionally, texting is only illegal while the car is in motion. A driver
may text when the car is at a complete stop, such as waiting at a red
light. Officers cannot ask to see a driver’s phone to determine
if the person actually sent a message unless the driver is involved in
an accident causing serious bodily injury or death.
Sachs wants to change the law to make texting while driving a primary offense.
As a secondary offense, the law is virtually unenforceable and may do
little to deter drivers from texting. However, making the law a primary
offense would empower police to stop and ticket any driver observed sending
or reading a text message while driving.
The fine would remain the same, a ticket for $30 for the first infraction.
However, Sachs’ bill would make it much easier for law enforcement
to actually issue citations. If the law is passed, aggressive ticketing
campaigns aimed at stopping texting drivers could be effective in motivating
drivers to think twice before reaching for the phone – which is
the overall safety goal of the initiative.
In her October 1st press conference, Sachs cited a few established statistics
regarding texting and driving:
- Texting-related accidents are the leading cause of traffic fatalities for
teenagers in the US, surpassing alcohol related deaths since 2011.
- Teens that text and drive are 50% more likely to crash and 6 times more
likely to be killed in a crash than teens driving under the influence
- Reading a text message occupies a minimum of 4.6 seconds of a driver’s
attention – at 55mph, a vehicle travels the length of a football
field in that timeframe.
A Tough Road Ahead for Tougher Laws?
Those who recognize the dangers of distracted driving may see this step
as the first of many designed to gradually strengthen the law and to get
all drivers to put down their mobile devices while behind the wheel. While
many other states, like New York, have completely banned the use of mobile
devices while driving, Florida only recently passed its texting ban following
nearly 5 years of debate and controversy in Tallahassee.
Still, Sachs feels this is a first step and strengthening its enforceability
might be met with less resistance. It’s possible that some concessions
may be necessary in order to make the law a primary offense, such as requiring
officers to issue a written warning for first-time violations. Only time
will tell, but it is very likely this topic will again make local headlines
as the bill progresses through the state legislature.
Additional Texting and Driving Statistics
- Each year, approximately 300,000 teenagers are treated at hospitals due
to texting and driving accidents
- Nearly 3,000 teens are killed each year in texting and driving accidents
- 1.6 Million – Total number of all crashes in the US each year resulting
from using a mobile device while driving (distracted driving)