In 2008, Myriam del Socorro Lopez was in the car with her husband on Bird Road when 17-year-old Luis Cruz-Govin, speeding and weaving, crashed into their vehicle. Lopez died on the scene.
The Miami Herald reports that a Miami-Dade jury has awarded $8.8 million to the Lopez family. Police on the scene originally charged Cruz-Govin with speeding and reckless driving, suspended his license for six months, and fined him $2,000.
As other details of the fatal accident emerge, Florida's driving laws, or lack there of, are called into question. Not only was Cruz-Govin speeding, according to the Herald, he was a habitual texter.
On the day of the accident, records show he sent 127 texts, the Herald reports. What's worse is that he sent a text two minutes before paramedics were called to the accident, indicating that he was likely texting while driving.
While 35 U.S. states have banned texting while driving, Florida is not one of them. And with Miami consistently ranking as having some of the worst drivers in the nation, the lack of handheld cell phone laws is deadly.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that the Federal Government ban all cell phone and texting device use while driving. According to their research, texting while behind the wheel increases the risk of an accident by a staggering 2,300 percent.
They also cite that using a phone while driving is the equivalent of having a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration. Despite the known dangers, NTSB found that drivers' texting is increasing.
But even in states that have banned text messaging while driving, the law is a difficult one to enforce. Because some non-web-based program are permitted, officers must get a good look at what the driver is doing to catch a texter.
In Illinois, the police department went as far as to pose police as solicitors in intersections so they could better spot texting drivers.
In the case of Cruz-Govin, texting might not have been his only bad behavior while driving his father's Subaru through South Miami. Police also found marijuana and cocaine in the car as well as a half-empty bottle of cough syrup.
UPDATE (5 p.m., 12/23): view the lawsuit's filed complaint
Alan Goldfarb, the attorney for Myriam del Socorro Lopez's husband and children, told HuffPost Miami that he and the family hope the verdict brings "a significant public awareness" to the problem of distracted driving, whether by texting, emailing, using Facebook or instant messaging.
"I hope this brings awareness to our politicians that will force more legislation, stricter laws that will truly penalize those are found to be texting and driving and causing or not causing an accident," Goldfarb said.
It is not clear if the Lopez family plans to spearhead any efforts toward passing legislation that may prevent losses like theirs -- Goldfarb said the treating psychiatrist testified at trial in her her 33 years on the job, Lopez's family was the most devastated she had ever dealt with -- but Florida politicians have already been paying attention. Despite the state legislature refusing all bills that would limit cell phone use or texting behind the wheel in 2011, representatives haved filed at least seven distracted driving bills for the 2012 legislative session. Senator Nancy Detert (R-Venice) and Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 416 and House Bill 299 in their respective branches to create the so-called "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law," Deter's third attempt. Senate Bill 122 would require driver's ed programs to teach the dangers of distracted driving (Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar proposal in the 2011 session). Senate Bill 930 would ban drivers under 18 from using wireless devices and phones altogether, among other rules, and House Bill 187 not only echoes those restrictions but also includes a ban on wireless devices for school bus drivers. House Bill 39 would provide for additional penalties against drivers cited for a moving violation while using a handheld device, as well as require them to appear before a "designated official."
Despite recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and losses like the Lopez family's, it remains a long shot for any of the Florida bills to pass into law. In the 2011 legislative session, six bills that aimed to limit distracted driving, from a ban on texting to driver education, died in committee, two were withdrawn, and one was vetoed by the governor. House Bill 187's sponsor Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Boca Raton), who became a highway safety advocate after losing his 14-year-old daughter in a crash, confessed to the News-Press he thinks the bill's chances are "slim to none.” Sen. Jack Lavala (R-Clearwater), the Republican chair of Senate Transportation Committee, gave the St. Pete Times some very choice words at a very choice time about the possibility of a ban on texting while driving law passing (via Miami New Times):
"You know the NRA saying that if they want my gun they'll pry it from my cold dead hands? That's what I think about banning cellphones and driving," said Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "Absolutely no chance."
He made the comments Wednesday while driving and talking on his cellphone.
For Goldfarb and others, any such outcome from Tallahassee is unacceptable: "They know that this is a problem that is growing worse," he told HuffPost Miami. "We have to do something."
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