Distracted Driving Kills, and Florida Police Can’t Do Much About It

Florida was one of the last states to ban texting while driving with a new law that took effect in 2013. But one veteran police officer has stated that the law as written is “almost unenforceable”, and police estimate that fewer than 1,800 tickets will issue in the laws’ inaugural year.

The Florida law allows a police officer to issue a citation only as a “secondary offense,” which means that a driver can only be ticketed if the officer also observed another violation, such as speeding or weaving between lanes – the officer cannot stop a driver simply because they see the driver texting. The prohibition only extends to the time when the car is in motion; when the car is stopped at a light or in traffic, the driver is allowed to text. Other uses of a cell phone, including making voice calls, listening to music and checking maps are not covered by the new law. Finally, the fine for violating the texting ban is only $30.00 – hardly a serious disincentive for most drivers.

If a driver is involved in an accident that causes death or serious injury, police will be able to subpoena cellphone records, which may help victims to prove their claims in civil court. But the real reason to avoid texting while driving is not the fear of a $30.00 fine – the most important reason to avoid distraction behind the wheel is that distracted drivers kill.

Studies Show Cellphone Use Impairs Driver Reaction Times More Than Alcohol

The National Safety Council released findings in 2012 that shows that there is no such thing as multitasking. Your brain will switch frequently between scanning the road for hazards and carrying on a conversation, but you simply cannot perform both functions at once. The report estimated that a driver who is talking on a cellphone has a four-fold increase in the chances that they will be involved in an accident. A controlled study using driving simulators found that drivers’ reaction times were more impaired by using a cellphone than by a blood alcohol level of .08 percent – the same level that constitutes driving under the influence in Florida.

Cellphone use is a common target of distracted driving advocates, since the proliferation of smartphones has changed how we think about what we can safely do while driving. But there are many other activities that can be just as dangerous, and many of us have been guilty of at least some of them from time to time:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Brushing hair, putting on makeup, and other grooming tasks
  • Disciplining children, including in the back seat, or being distracted by their behavior
  • Searching the floor for dropped items
  • Reading a map or looking at a GPS
  • Adjusting the radio or CD player, or watching a video
  • Rubbernecking

When you are driving, remind yourself that your only priority is to guarantee your safety and that of your passengers until the car is parked and the ignition is switched off. If you must deal with a situation in the car, find a safe place to pull over.

If you have been involved in an accident and you believe that the other driver might have been distracted, you need to consult with a law firm that has the experience and the resources to investigate your case and bring your case to trial if necessary. You need to understand that if even the other driver could not have been ticketed for texting under those specific circumstances, this does not mean that they are not liable for your injuries. The requirement to pay attention to the road and react to hazards is far broader than any one law can enumerate.