On the first of February, a Florida bill that would crack down on texting drivers by allowing law enforcement to pull them over solely for using their phones got one step closer to becoming law. Now past its third and final House committee, the measure must next be approved by the House and Senate. If it passes, Florida will become the 44th state in the U.S. to make texting while driving a primary offense.
Under current law first passed in 2013, all Florida drivers are prohibited from text messaging while driving. However, unlike the majority of states, Florida’s texting law is only a secondary offense, which means law enforcement cannot cite driver’s for texting unless they have pulled them over for another offense, such as running a red light or violating another traffic law.
Distracted Driving Leads to Spike in Roadway Deaths
By strengthening Florida’s texting ban and making the act of texting while driving a primary offense, Florida lawmakers would be joining the majority of states in fighting back against driver distraction, which continues to cause devastating wrecks on public roads and highways. In fact, many experts have agreed that texting and cell phone use are the primary culprits behind sharp increases in traffic deaths nationwide.
According to statistics published by the National Safety Council, a 14% increase in roadway fatalities during 2016 and 2015 accounts for the largest two-year increase in roadway deaths in more than half a century. 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, is also the first year since 2007 that more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents nationwide.
With statistics as alarming as this, it becomes clear that tougher laws are needed. Strengthening texting bans is one way to address the problem, but advocates also advise that more states, including Florida, should pass laws that ban all forms of cell phone use behind the wheel.
Regardless of the form it takes – whether it be adjusting music, reading maps, personal grooming, or conversing with passengers – distracted driving places others on the road at risk of suffering serious injuries in preventable auto accidents. However, texting and cell phone use are still the primary concerns, as using a smart phone to text, e-mail, or access the internet or apps can increase crash risks by as much as 23 times, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. That’s due to the fact that cell phones command multiple forms of a driver’s attention:
- Manual – Using a smartphone requires drivers to remove one or sometimes both hands from the wheel, decreasing their ability to steer their vehicles safely or make quick and responsive maneuvers to avoid collisions.
- Visual – Drivers who text or use their phones remove their eyes from the roadway ahead and from their side and rear-view mirrors. One study from VTTI noted that taking your eyes off the road for just 5 seconds – the average time it takes to read or send a text – while traveling at 55 mph is equivalent to driving the length of a football field while blindfolded.
- Cognitive – In addition to commanding the visual and manual attention of drivers, texting and cell phone use also commands their cognitive attention. Drivers who are engaged in conversations or tasks aside from the act of driving can suffer from driver inattention, which can significantly increase crash risks.
The Rights of Victims
Because texting while driving is such a dangerous act, any motorist who chooses to text or use their phone fails in upholding their legal obligation of taking reasonable measures to safely operate their vehicle. As such, victims who suffer serious injuries in distracted driving wrecks have the right to hold negligent drivers accountable for causing preventable crashes, and liable for the damages they suffer – including their medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in an auto accident involving a driver who was texting or distracted at the time, Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin is available to help you understand your right to compensation and whether you have a potential case. Our personal injury lawyers proudly serve clients throughout West Palm Beach and the state of Florida and have the experience needed to fight for the compensation you deserve. To request a free evaluation of your case, contact us today.