Texting And Driving In The Sunshine State
To date, 30 states have enacted laws that ban all drivers from text messaging while behind the wheel. In 2010 alone, 12 states joined the ranks of their more safety-conscious counterparts. Yet, Florida is among a dwindling number of jurisdictions where pulling out your phone to tap out a few characters on the go remains perfectly legal — so long as it does not affect your driving to the point of a careless driving charge.
In fact, Florida has no restrictions on texting even for novice drivers or for bus drivers carrying passengers. The facts are clear that texting behind the wheel is extremely dangerous. So why are Florida lawmakers failing to act? Well, some of them have already been trying: an astonishing 17 bills aimed at curbing texting behind the wheel have been introduced in the Florida legislature. They uniformly failed. While some legislators cite an aversion to policing personal behavior or the failure to address other forms of distracted driving, there is little doubt that texting and driving is costing many lives.
Attributes of Failed Laws
One of the major anti-texting bills introduced last year would have made texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning a driver could not be ticketed unless pulled over for some other violation. Under this piece of legislation, first time texters would face a nonmoving violation and a $30 ticket; a second violation within 5 years would double the ticket cost and would be considered a moving violation. This bill was roundly criticized as not being tough enough.
In many states, drivers can be pulled over for texting as a primary offense, and fines or other penalties are much more severe. States with primary enforcement of texting bans may also be eligible for extra federal highway funds, and some claim the secondary enforcement laws are simply not as effective. Nonetheless, there is some talk of reviving Florida’s proposed secondary enforcement bill in 2011.
Making Roadways Safer
Some Florida politicians have mentioned that laws against distracted driving are already on the books. Officers can arguably ticket someone who is texting (or reaching for an object, applying makeup, eating a hamburger, etc.) for careless driving when they observe clearly unsafe activity. But, these laws do not specifically mention texting: is that level of specificity meaningful?
Some seem to think so, including the federal government. The Department of Transportation has recently launched a campaign that seeks to ban texting while driving in all states and also attempts to educate the public on the real, human consequences of text messaging behind the wheel. Many officials feel that simply making texting while driving illegal would assist in broadening public awareness by stigmatizing the practice. There is some reason to believe in this point of view: a study in California reported a 70 percent reduction in driver texting in the wake of that state’s texting ban.
Last year, 2,430 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions in Florida. Although this represents the lowest number of annual fatalities in over three decades, Florida is still one of the most hazardous states for drivers in the nation, coming in third after California and Texas.
In addition, Floridians face a heightened risk from texters: the National Occupant Protection Use Survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drivers in Southern States were more than twice as likely to be seen operating hand held electronic devices than in any other area of the country. Tragically, most of the deaths caused by texting could have been easily preventable, and if a texting ban could help lower the number of victims, lawmakers should give is real consideration.
Personal Injury Lawsuits for Victims
Just because there is not currently a law against texting while driving in Florida you are by no means barred from recovering damages in a civil lawsuit from a texting driver. If a driver negligently causes an accident by texting, he or she can be held liable for a variety of harms, including any resulting property damage, costs of medical treatment, compensation for pain and suffering, and lost wages. If a family member was killed by a driver’s careless texting, a wrongful death lawsuit can help survivors recover monetary compensation for most of the same losses as with injuries, in addition to reasonable funeral expenses.
If your life has been impacted by someone texting behind the wheel, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area. Your attorney will help you obtain the compensation you deserve, and will give you the chance to discourage the practice of texting while driving in your own small way.