The Florida government has recently halted a texting and driving bill that makes texting a primary offense due to fear of racial profiling. Democratic member of the House of Representatives Al Jacquet stated “this particular bill that you are running, giving officers another reason to pull folks over regardless of whether they actually committed a current traffic infraction … this gives them another reason to pull people over.” Distracted driving, however, has been one of the most common causes for fatal car accidents along with adverse weather conditions and drunk drivers.
Current Florida Law states that texting and driving is prohibited, however it cannot be a primary offense for which drivers are pulled over. Breaking this law for the first time will net drivers a $30 fine with no points on their license, while a second offense within a five-year span becomes a moving violation with points and a fine up to $60. The recently quashed law would not change the fine/point structure for distracted driving, but would make it a primary violation instead of a secondary one.
With Distracted Driver Month passing in April, Floridians continue to attempt to shine a light on this problem as Florida ranks 49th out of the 50 states in in cell phone use while driving with 44% of drivers having at least one incident involving distracted driving. The average distraction is approximately five seconds and a car going at 60 MPH for that long can travel the distance of one and a half football fields. In 2016, nine percent of fatal crashes were reported as distraction-affected crashes. Florida is one of four states that does not have texting as a primary offense.
Orange County Car Accidents
While distracted driving incidents are high in Orange County, Florida, the area surrounding Orlando frequently does not follow national trends with regards to fatal car accident statistics. While Floridians were recently ranked the worst drivers in America for the second straight year, they also ranked 45th in the country in the nation in DUI arrests. In 2016 there were 161 reported fatal car accidents in Orange County. Of these accidents:
• 66.46% of reported accidents did not have a driver over the legal alcohol limit
• 67.57% of weekday fatal accidents did not happen during rush hour*
• 83.23% of accidents happened on clear days
(Note: Rush hour defined as 6-10 AM and 4-8 PM)
The most common day and time for accidents in Orange County are Thursday (18.01%) and between 9-10 PM (12.58%). These figures help to show that while other external factors can play a major part in local car accidents, often they are happening at times that differ from the expectation of heavy alcohol usage, inclement weather, and heavy traffic and are due in large part to distracted drivers.
How to Prevent Distracted Driving
As of May 21, 2018, a change.org petition to Make Texting & Driving a Primary Offense in Florida is at 53,056 signatures. Distracted driving accidents are most prominently due to phone calls/texts, however other leading causes include eating, changing music stations/volume and looking down for directions.
Many phone providers and app makers have prioritized stopping drivers from using their phones while in motion. Popular apps such as Waze make vehicles going faster than a minimal speed to verify that they are a passenger before continuing using the app. Apple has rolled out “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode to prevent users from getting notifications while driving. AT&T has launched “DriveSafely” that automatically responds to anyone who messages anyone going over 15 MPH and informs them that they are driving. Android allows many apps into the Google Play store to do the same.
Many Florida lawmakers and police officers have spoken out to get a texting and driving bill passed to make this a primary offense. Make your voice heard and reach out to local politicians to let them know the importance of making distracted driving a primary offense.