Legislators Seek to Toughen Penalties for Distracted Drivers

Every year, thousands of people in the U.S. die in distracted driving accidents – 3,400 in 2015, to be exact. While most states, including Florida, have some type of law on the books that aims to curb these incidents. But there are plenty of traffic safety advocates who say these measures aren’t doing enough. phone

Just take Florida, for example. F.S. 316.305 went into effect in 2013 (and was one of the last texting-and-driving bans in the country to be enacted). The statute prohibits a person from operating a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a phone or wireless communication device. So far so good, right? But there are a few issues. First off, it’s a secondary offense, which means police can’t initiate a traffic stop on this basis alone; they can only issue a citation if they stop a driver for another offense. Even if they do ticket the driver, it’s only a $35 citation for a first-time offender. Not much of a deterrent. Beyond that, the law doesn’t ban talking (which studies have shown can be just as distracting) or dialing a number (and it can be tough for an officer to discern the difference between that and texting from outside the vehicle, especially if it’s moving). Also, it doesn’t address the expanding technology, which includes video chats.

Now, there are two bills on the table to enhance penalties for those who violate Florida’s current ban on texting and driving. HB 47 would increase the fine (doubling it for offenses in school zones or designated crossings) and also make the violation a primary offense, as opposed to a secondary offense. Meanwhile, HB 69 targets drivers 18 or younger, and would make the offense primary only for these motorists. 

Meanwhile, other states are taking even more drastic measures. In California, for instances, the New York Times reports a new law has been enacted that bans drivers from even holding mobile devices. The law law went into effect January 1st and it builds on an earlier state law that prohibits drivers from talking and texting, but didn’t stop them from streaming video or using apps like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

You may recall late last year, a Texas couple filed a federal lawsuit against Apple following a 2014 car accident that killed their 5-year-old daughter. Investigators reported the at-fault driver had been using Apple’s FaceTime app and wasn’t paying attention to the stopped traffic ahead. Plaintiffs allege the technology firm has the ability – and even a patent on the technology – to prohibit use of the app by drivers in moving vehicles, but had not implemented it.

A spokeswoman for travel organization AAA told the Times she anticipates many other states will be introducing additional bills to curb distracted driving accidents. The National Safety Council reports that 1 in every 4 Florida car accidents involves at least one driver who is distracted. The risk of distraction for teens is even greater: Research has shown 60 percent of all crashes or near-crashes involving teen drivers involve smartphone-related distraction.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Can a Law Stop Distracted Driving? California Hopes to Find Out, Jan. 5, 2017, By Jonah Engel Bromwich, The New York Times

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