Those who patrol Florida’s deadly streets and highways regularly spot motorists texting and driving, but are often powerless to do anything about it, despite the known danger and the fact that such action is against the law. That’s because Florida is one of just a handful of states that has deemed texting to be a secondary offense for non-commercial drivers, meaning officers can’t stop the driver or issue a ticket unless the driver also committed some other offense. That may soon change, as The Associated Press reports state lawmakers are considering a measure that would classify texting-and-driving as a primary offense, one that would be worthy in and of itself to initiate a traffic stop.
This has the potential for a major impact in a state where some 2,700 people died in car accidents in 2017. It’s not known for certain how many of these crashes involved a texting driver, partially because unlike drunk driving, texting-and-driving is not so obviously traced. Meanwhile, the U.S. government opines that approximately 3,500 people are killed and 400,000 injured nationally in texting and other distracted driving accidents annually.
Florida is in company with three other states – Ohio, South Dakota and Nebraska – that make texting a secondary offense. Two other states have no law banning the practice, while another only imposes limitations for non-commercial drivers under 21.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that of those seven states that don’t classify texting and driving as a primary offense (or as an offense at all), five had car accident death rates that rose above the national average. Florida ranked No. 9. While the IIHS also reports that texting bans have no noticeable impact on the number of crashes, that research has been disputed by a number of other studies that found the opposite. Surveillance indicates the number of drivers who are texting dips dramatically in places with a ban that allows primary enforcement. Another study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham revealed a 3 percent decrease in the number of car accident deaths in states with an all-encompassing ban on texting drivers. These results were most pronounced among younger motorists.
Those who oppose the measure argue either that current measures are sufficient or that such a law would be disproportionately applied to minority motorists, as was seen following passage of a mandatory seat belt law. Lawmakers say that while such a measure would have value in improving safety, they would want to carefully track ticket citation statistics to ensure the laws aren’t unfairly applied.
F.S. 316.305, Florida’s current texting and driving law, prohibits anyone from operating a motor vehicle while manually using a communication device or reading such communications unless they are:
- Reporting an emergency;
- Making a call;
- Using GPS
- Obtaining information pertaining to road safety (including weather alerts);
- Accessing radio broadcasts;
- Using the device in a way that doesn’t require manual entry of multiple characters;
- Talking on the phone;
- Operating an autonomous vehicle.
A user’s billing records for cell phones are only accessible by investigators when the suspected distracted driver causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury – another aspect that makes tracking such incidents all the more difficult.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Texting Ban May Soon Be Enforced on Florida’s Deadly Roads, Dec. 30, 2017, Associated Press
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Snow Birds May Need to Obtain Florida Auto Insurance to Retain Their Right to File a Crash Claim, Dec. 19, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog