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Commentary
5/28/2013
09:55 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth

New law, intended to reduce distracted driving, doesn't go nearly far enough.

Florida Tuesday became the 40th state to ban texting when behind the wheel. The law is so lax, however, that it can only be applied as a secondary offense: Florida's police officers aren't allowed to pull over drivers they see texting. Florida needs to do much better.

The law was signed into effect Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in Miami. The governor chose a high school to drive home the point that texting when driving is a major problem for teen drivers.

Sending messages from behind the wheel is the leading cause of death for teenagers, according to a study published earlier this month. Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park determined that more than 3,000 teens are killed each year in car accidents caused by texting, with another 300,000 teens treated at hospitals for injuries sustained in such crashes. Fewer teens are killed or injured in alcohol-related crashes.

[ Speaking might be no safer than typing when you're behind the wheel. Read Dictating While Driving: As Dangerous As Typing. ]

Governor Scott said, "As a father and a grandfather, texting while driving is something that concerns me when my loved ones are on the road. The 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are known as the deadliest days on the road for teenagers. We must do everything we can at the state level to keep our teenagers and everyone on our roads safe. I cannot think of a better time to officially sign this bill into law."

Too bad the new law is practically worthless.

As worded, the texting ban says drivers cannot operate a motor vehicle "while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data in such a device for the purpose of non-voice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, emailing and instant messaging."

Even if police officers see someone texting behind the wheel, however, they can't do anything to stop them. Because the ban refers to texting as a secondary offense, it can be applied only if the driver is pulled over for another infraction or causes an accident. Further, a first offense rates a fine of just $30, and a second offense (within five years) rates a fine of just $60.

Worse, the law makes exceptions, allowing the use of mobile devices for GPS and navigation, for reporting crimes and when using voice-to-text services. Florida's lawmakers clearly didn't read the study published last month that shows dictating messages impairs drivers just as much as typing them does. Florida's lawmakers also didn't notice that a court in California recently upheld a conviction wherein a driver was pulled over for using his device's GPS capabilities for directions. California bans nearly all use of mobile or handheld devices when behind the wheel.

In Florida's defense, it appears that more-stringently-worded laws have little effect on teens' driving habits.

"Fifty percent of high school students of driving age acknowledge texting while driving," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen and author of the dictation study. "When we compared states where there are no laws in effect [barring texting while operating a moving vehicle] and states where there are laws on the books, we found there was no difference in their responses. Clearly, the laws are not effective."

Teens aren't the only ones to blame. A study from AT&T, SKDKnickerbocker and Beck Research published earlier this year showed that more business professionals than teenagers are now texting while driving. Worse, 98% of those surveyed said they understand how dangerous texting while driving is, but they admitted to doing it anyway. Half of commuters send text messages or emails when behind the wheel, compared to 43% of teenagers.

As much as we might like to think that taking a peek at our phone's screen to read a message when driving is harmless, it isn't. Reading messages is bad enough; sending them takes drivers' eyes off the road for far too long as they hunt for letters to peck. With ineffective laws and little incentive for police to enforce the ones already on the books, education is perhaps the only way in which to combat texting while driving.

With more than 3,000 teenagers alone killed each year in accidents caused by text messages, it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed further by teachers, employers, the government and society at large.

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anon5962015541
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anon5962015541,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 9:59:22 AM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
I hope, all states will ban texting while driving. The bottom line? It's a warning none of us can have repeated too often: don't engage in texting, dialing, or surfing the Internet while you're behind the wheel. Pay attention to the road and traffic ahead of you while being on the lookout for bikes, joggers or perhaps a little child chasing his ball that rolled into the roadway. Don't let a few tragic seconds haunt you for the rest of your life. 
catvalencia
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catvalencia,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/25/2013 | 8:41:30 AM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
Let us not be prejudice here. Amendment in the law could be the good answer here. So far, police in a number of states have not been able to find too many people who are texting while driving though most are still likely doing the work. To help stop the dangerous practice, the Department of Transportation has granted a $550,000 grant to discover possible ways of catching it. Find more at: Texting while Driving
RandyW758
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RandyW758,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/21/2013 | 5:55:56 PM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
Shotguns fix stupid.
RandyW758
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RandyW758,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/21/2013 | 5:52:48 PM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
Rick Scott is a moron, and Florida lawmakers are idiots. This law is useless, powerless, and completely retarded. Please lawmakers, you need to stop going FULL RETARD on your jobs. Retard cake, is retard cake, no matter how you slice it and no matter the flavor of the icing.
This needs to be a primary objective, and it needs to include holding a phone in your hands for ANY reason. There is a REASON FL car insurance is so high. Most of your constituents are morons, YOU need to take up the slack and stop them from doing moronic things in public, while endangering the few of us who aren't.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/31/2013 | 11:46:56 AM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
This is in line with any other form of politics in Florida. Laws that support gun fanatics and allow for shooting people point blank for petty things (or just for fun) and elections that for over a decade are riddled with irregularities and fraud.
That aside, even if it is a primary offense people will still do it and police will still not pull drivers over for that. I see it every day with the cops right there. It is either too much work for them to ticket a texter or they truly have better things to do. Fact is, no law will fix stupid.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2013 | 3:58:13 AM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
From a moralistic viewpoint, does it really take a law in order for people to do the right thing?

"Worse, 98% of those surveyed said they understand how dangerous texting while driving is, but they admitted to doing it anyway. Half of commuters send text messages or emails when behind the wheel, compared to 43% of teenagers."

If 98% know that it's dangerous, yet half of them do it... maybe Florida should build a secondary highway system just for those people so that they can text all they want while they drive and when things do go really wrong, only those who wanted the ability to text would get directly hurt... sounds crazy, but come on... 98% know it's wrong, half do it anyway. Where's Darwin when you need him?

Personally, I don't even use my mobile device when I'm driving - unless I'm stopped and using the GPS. Call me when I'm driving (or even commuting on the subway), you go to voicemail. Text me when I'm driving, I'll answer you when I get to my destination.

When you are behind the wheel of a vehicle, your safety, your passengers' safety and the safety of everyone around you depends on you being alert to the dynamic environment unfolding before you. PERIOD.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/29/2013 | 9:40:26 PM
re: Florida's Texting-While-Driving Ban Has No Teeth
It's Florida - the law almost was derailed completely by a last-minute amendment forbidding the police from checking the contents of phone -- presumably to verify that texting had been happening -- except "in the case of accidents involving injury or death."

Which, of course, is too late.

"Any law that seeks to give up our civil liberties or ask us to, I will amend so it doesn't do that," said Miami Republican Rep. Jose Oliva.
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