Florida has more than 14 million licensed drivers. Drivers of all ages engage in various tasks while operating their motor vehicles. These mobile chores run the entire gamut of behavior including eating and drinking, grooming, reading maps, using a navigation system, watching a video or tending to the vehicle’s sound system. Among the deadliest distractions that any driver, regardless of age engages in is sending and receiving text messages while the vehicle is in motion.
Distracted drivers killed 3092 people in crashes involving a distracted driver and 416,000 more were injured in vehicle crashes related to a distracted driver. The numbers are frightening; 18% 0f all injuries are caused by distracted drivers. 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 were distracted drivers due to one of the classic automobile distractions. The scariest statistic is that 40% of all teens report that they have been a passenger in a car while the driver used a cell phone for calls or texting. If you operate a motor vehicle while operating a cellular phone you and your passengers are four times more likely to be involved in a crash with serious injuries or death. Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than that of a driver who is paying appropriate attention to the road and not engaging in texting while driving. Here’s why; sending or receiving a text message takes the driver’s eyes and attention from the roadway for an average of 4.6 seconds which, at 55 MPH is like driving the length of an entire football field without looking at the roadway.
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one leading cause of death for our teenagers; no other hazard claims as many teenage lives each year. It is time that we took charge of this substantially unregulated trend and enact reasonable laws coupled with educational initiatives to save our teenagers and our population who unwittingly become the victims of distracted drivers.
Several states have already begun the legislative process of addressing this tragic and costly behavior. 10 States already prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. 32 States ban novice or new drivers from using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. 39 States prohibit all drivers from text messaging while driving. The cell phone is not the only culprit but it is, far and away, the most prevalent and most deadly distraction that our young and inexperienced drivers cope with.
Currently Florida has no legislation whatsoever specifically addressing the use of cell phones, sending and receiving calls and text messages but instead, regulate the driving behavior through the enforcement of its Reckless Driving (F.S. 316.192) and Careless Driving (316.1925) Statutes. The time is right for our Legislature to step up and address this menace. We need more than just a piece of legislation; we need a three step approach. We need legislation expressly and specifically prohibiting sending and receiving text messages while operating a motor vehicle as well as requiring hands-free cell phone use. Secondly we need a No Texting While Driving campaign to get the word out to our teens and young adults of the incredible danger and third; we need a well structured and well presented public educational program with incentives on the dangers of cell phone usage and texting while operating a motor vehicle.
Our 2012 Legislature adjourned without enacting several bills regarding distracted drivers and cell phones and texting while driving. More than 70% of the Florida population supports the implementation of a cell phone and texting ban while driving. Senate bill 416 which would have prohibited texting while driving along with others of its type (SB 122, SB 930, HB 299, HB 187 and HB 187) all failed to become law. There is no shortage of knowledge and awareness of the magnitude of the problem. Once our legislature and our population as a whole recognize the severity of the problem and recognize the call to action needed, they will take and implement appropriates laws and regulations as well as educate our young drivers and make Florida’s road safer for all of us. With the carnage on our highways, we cannot afford to wait any longer. Take a moment and write to your Legislator and ask him or her to take the next step and begin to make our roadways safer for all Floridians. With the deaths on our roadways, we do not have the luxury of time.