Lawmakers Optimistic Florida Will Pass Texting Ban In 2010
As Florida lawmakers prepare to enter the 2010 legislative session, they have as many as 17 bills dealing with distracted driving waiting for their consideration. The majority of these bills seek to prohibit state drivers from texting while driving, while other measures seek a broader ban against the use of hand-held cell phones and other electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.
This is not the first time a texting ban has come up for consideration before the Florida State Legislature. In 2009, 10 such bills died in the legislature without ever advancing to committee vote. The failed efforts to pass a texting ban have been blamed on everything from a reluctance to regulate private behavior to special interest groups to not having enough time to properly debate and pass the ban.
However, many are cautiously optimistic that 2010 will be the year that Florida gets a texting ban passed. 35 House and Senate members – or more than 20 percent of the legislature – either has sponsored or co-sponsored one of the 17 texting bills on the current docket. In February, the House’s Roads, Bridges and Ports Policy Committee held a workshop on the texting bills – the first time ever that a texting bill made it this far in the legislative process.
Growing Public Consensus, National Focus on Dangers of Distracted Driving
So what makes 2010 any different from past efforts?
First, there is a mounting public consensus on the dangers of texting and driving and the corresponding need for the state to take action against it. Concerned citizens across Florida have been contacting their legislators with heartbreaking stories of texting accidents that have left their loved ones severally injured or even dead. They are demanding the state take action to protect them and their loved ones.
Additionally, there have been several national studies released within the past year affirmatively proving the dangers of texting while driving. Last July, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a study that showed drivers who text behind the wheel have a 23 times greater chance of being involved in an accident – a risk even greater than those faced by drunk drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also released a report that showed drivers who text take their eyes off of the road an average of 4.6 out of every 6 seconds, or the equivalent of traveling 55 mph down the length of an entire football field without ever checking the road.
Texting bans also have made their way into the national spotlight . According to the Governors’ Highway Safety Association, 29 states and the District of Columbia have some type of texting ban, with 19 of the states prohibiting all drivers from engaging in the dangerous activity. The federal government also has taken action against texting drivers, passing a texting ban in January against commercial truck and bus drivers. Congress also is considering passing a national texting ban that would withhold as much as 25 percent of promised federal highway dollars from states who did not have a texting ban in place.
Lastly, a texting ban may have finally garnered the political support it needs to pass in Florida. Key legislative members and other political figures, including Governor Charlie Crist and Director Julie Jones of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, have thrown in their support for a texting ban. This coupled with the increased public support for a texting ban in Florida may be enough to push one through the legislature.
Key Issues Still Up for Debate
However, many commentators caution that Florida is still a long way from passing a texting bill. While House members may have left the February 17th Roads, Bridges and Ports Policy Committee’s workshop on distracted driving agreeing that a texting ban should be passed, there are still several important key issues up for debate. These issues include:
· Enforcement . Will the eventual ban be subject to primary or secondary enforcement by the police? In other words, will the police be given the authority to pull over drivers they catch texting or will they only be able to cite drivers for texting who have violated another traffic law, like speeding?
· Applicability. Will the law apply broadly to all Florida drivers or only certain Florida drivers? Several of the bills seek only to prohibit drivers age 18 or younger from texting while others seek to ban school bus drivers and/or train engineers from the dangerous activity. The majority of the bills, however, propose a state-wide texting ban for all motorists.
· Punishment. How much should drivers be ticketed for violating the texting ban? Should points be assessed against their driving record for the violation? Should other punishments in addition to fines be imposed, like jail time? Most states with texting bans impose only a fine, some of a nominal amount and others with a more significant amount. Very few states impose jail time for texting violations that do not involve accidents causing severe bodily injury or death to another driver.
A consensus will have to be met on these issues before a unified texting bill can be proposed and voted on. Additionally, there are still key concerns that stalled previous texting bans in past legislative sessions, such as the concern about the government regulating private behavior.
Getting Help after an Accident
The National Safety Council estimates that 28 percent of all traffic accidents in the U.S. can be attributed to drivers distracted by a cell phone or texting. In 2008, there were 2983 fatal car accidents in Florida. Officially, 15 of these accidents were attributed to distracted drivers.
However, it is likely that many more Floridians will be seriously injured or lose their lives to acts by distracted drivers. Currently, state police are not required to collect data on accidents attributed to texting or cell phone use, unless the driver volunteers the information. Using national estimates, it is more likely than as many as 835 lives may have been lost due to driver distraction.
If you have been involved in an accident with a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Distracted driving accidents can result in serious injuries and can leave the victims with extensive medical bills, property damage and other losses.
Drivers who choose to talk on their cell phones, send text messages or partake in other distracting behaviors should not be able to walk away from these accidents without paying for the damage they caused. For more information on your legal options, contact an experienced attorney today.