We all know that it’s “bad” to multitask while we’re out on the road, but did you know that distracted driving is the number one cause of car accidents in Florida?
That’s right – number one! It’s worse than bad weather, vehicle malfunction, or even drunk driving. How bad is it? There were at least 85 fatal accidents between 2010 and 2011 that were a direct result of distracted driving, and that’s not even looking at countless accidents that merely damaged cars and caused injuries to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Florida isn’t alone in this problem, either. According to the Department of Transportation, there were 5,474 distracted driving fatalities and 448,000 injuries nationally in 2009. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration goes even further, saying that four out of every five auto accidents are related to distraction.
What Is Distracted Driving?
The Florida Department of Transportation defines distracted driving as “any mental or physical activity that takes the driver’s focus off the task of driving.” Now, that covers a lot of ground – everything from rubbernecking while you pass an accident to plugging your iPhone into your stereo can qualify, but more and more,it’s cellphones and texting that arethe culprits.
According to this infographic from Online Schools,at least 23% of car crashes across the country involved cell phone use, and text messaging makes drivers 23 times more likely to have an accident.Additionally, a <a< span=””> href=”http://www.distraction.gov/download/research-pdf/carnegie-mellon.pdf”>2008 study at Carnegie Mellon found that talking on a cell phone while driving monopolizes valuable mental resources, compromising driving ability. So even though the use of hands-free devices is problematic, no state has put any limitations on using hands-free devices in vehicles.
What it boils down is pretty simple: use your phone while driving, and there’s a good chance that an unpleasant to truly tragic events can ensue.
How Will the New Texting Ban Change Things?
On October 1, 2013, the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law” went into effect, making texting illegal when you’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. The new law is a positive move. It draws attention to the hazards of distracted driving and will hopefully make some drivers think twice about taking their eyes off the road to send a message.
It is not, however, without flaws. First of all, texting while driving is only a secondary offense, meaning that police officers have to pull over a driver for another offense, like speeding or erratic driving, before they can ticket them for being on their phone. The texting law also does not prevent drivers from texting when the car isn’t in motion, such as at a stoplight or while sitting in traffic that isn’t moving.And finally, for anyone who is pulled over and cited for texting and driving, the first fine is just $30—not much of a disincentive for someone determined to continue texting while they drive. For the countless victims of distracted drivers out there, this kind of slap on the wrist offers minimal comfort.
What Else is Being Done?
In a 2010 survey in which people were asked which driving problems were most severe in Florida, distracted driving was chosen by 64% of the respondents. Floridians understand that it’s a big problem, as does the Department of Transportation. In fact, the DOT’s State Safety office put together a seven-point plan designed to educate police officers, judges, and lawmakers on the dangers of distracted driving and the options available to them under existing law; it also pushes for stricter policies in the future.
Likewise, in 2012, the Department of Transportation engaged in the Just Put It Down campaign as a way of getting the word out about the problems caused by distracted driving. The campaign included a a proclamation from the governor, a two-minute PSA, and generally worked to raise awareness about the issue and effect change.
What Needs to Be Done?
Educational campaigns like Just Put It Down are fantastic, insofar as they go. In order to start changing people’s practicess, a massive marketing effort undertaken on the scale of the American Legacy Foundation’s “Truth” campaign against tobacco is what’s needed Ongoing messaging in which citizens are repeatedly reminded of the dangers, and shocking consequences of distracted driving is an important step in the effort to curb such habits.
But it shouldn’t stop there. The texting ban needs to be reworked to increasepenalties and set more stringent criteria than what’s in the current version. Making texting while driving a secondary offense just doesn’t cut it. Additionally, if Florida lawmakers really want to show voters that they care about driver safety, everyone needs to be banned from all mobile phone use while driving. This would likely be a tough sell, but it would put citizens on notice that the state truly believes using mobile devices impairs their ability to drive. In fact, if Florida lawmakers really wanted to put themselves at the forefront of this movement to curb distracted driving, they could start paying attention to the research saying that hands-free devices are also dangerous and forbid their use, as well.
Above all, it can’t all be on the back of the State Safety Office of the Department of Transportation. More departments and organizations have to get involved and start putting some muscle (and money!) behind the effort to improve driver safety in the state. Otherwise, the problem will only getworse as mobile technology continues to develop and attract new adherents who develop the same bad habits.
Far too many people believe that using their phone while driving isn’t dangerous. It’s time that Florida drivers start paying attention to this problem – and the road.
About the Author:
Attorney Jeffrey A. Luhrsen credits his military career with the work ethic,integrity, and tenacity that drives his career as a personal injury attorney. Having garnered numerous academic awards and scholarships during college and law school, Jeff has continued to earn accolades throughout his career, including a Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating, the highest rating an attorney can achieve in legal ability and ethical standards. He has been in private practice since 1998 with a focus on tort claims and insurance disputes.Luhrsen Law Group, based in Sarasota, Florida, is proud to be a family-owned firm that helps Florida familiesrecover after serious injuries and from legal wrongs.To contact Jeff or Luhrsen Law Group in Sarasota, call 941.355.7778 or toll free 866.957.4878. To learn more, visit http://www.luhrsen.com